As the official online home of the Socceroos, Yahoo7's World Cup site will act as a 24-hour news source, discussion forum and multimedia archive for football-mad Australians hungry for a fix. But with a wealth of comprehensive Cup sites worldwide and the free-to-air match rights belonging to SBS, how will the offering lure visitors away from the competition?
To win the golden boot on the Web at this year's FIFA World Cup, Yahoo7's game plan is simple -- the magic formula combines online video, reports from both news services and content partners, and a strong emphasis on user-generated content.
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According to David McGrath, head of news, sport and finance at Yahoo7, this mix, resulting in a site with "information coming from all different angles", aims to create a sense of community among users, who can use the official reports and video content as the basis for discussions on the site's message boards.
With interactivity the crucial advantage that the Internet has over television, Yahoo7 is keen to get Web visitors sharing opinions, information and images with one another. The site integrates some of Yahoo's formidable line-up of online offerings, such as the Flickr photo sharing community, Yahoo 360 blogs and instant messaging avatars. For example, clicking on the "Flickr Photos" link on the front page of the Yahoo7 World Cup site takes the visitor to photos tagged with the term "socceroos" on Flickr. This localised integration allows users whose images might have otherwise been lost in the mire of World Cup madness to easily flag them for automatic inclusion on the official team site.
Yahoo7 does not regard the fact that matches will be broadcast live by Channel Seven rival SBS as a hindrance. "The key for us is to be the compelling debate and the chat and ... community before the game and after the game", says McGrath, pointing out that SBS is "a free-to-air rights holder, they're not an online video rights holder."
McGrath also envisages fans having their browsers pointed to Yahoo7 while televised games are in progress, with the Web site complementing the viewing experience by providing statistics, in-depth information and the opportunity to discuss the game with other fans as it happens. He sees combining TV-watching with Web use as "the perfect opportunity for full convergence", which allows fans to "go backwards ... using the online [offering] as your reference point for any type of information you want to get."
Perhaps the trump card in Yahoo7's hand is the deal signed with the Football Federation of Australia (FFA), which allows exclusive access to behind-the-scenes video of the Socceroos' World Cup crusade. There will be "a minimum of eight exclusive video shoots using the FFA media unit camera crew who are with the team," says McGrath. "They're embedded in the hotel; they go to all the training sessions; they're on the planes."
In a reversal of usual practice, there has been interest from other commercial networks in broadcasting this exclusive footage on television. Yahoo7 is looking at watermarking the content and making it available to the stations for free-to-air broadcast. "We've spoken to the FFA and we don't have a problem with sharing [the video], but the exclusivity will always be with Yahoo7," says McGrath. "It's encouraging to see online now actually driving the free-to-air as a first source of information and breaking news."
In addition to video shot by the FFA, Yahoo's partnership with FIFA allows the site to offer up to three minutes of highlights per match. The combination of on- and off-field coverage, both available on demand, is seen by McGrath as a key part of the site's appeal: "It's all-encompassing; you have behind the scenes, you have everything that goes with the Socceroos as far as video, and we have all the video highlights for all 64 matches."
In text-based reporting, Yahoo7's site will feature stories from wire services AAP, AFP and Reuters, as well as a Socceroos-focused blog from the FFA and exclusive content from FourFourTwo magazine. These join photos from Getty Images to provide a well-rounded news section, meaning visitors do not need to leave the site to catch up on the latest from Germany.
The site's status as the official mouthpiece of the Socceroos will likely entice Australian visitors away from overseas-hosted World Cup Web offerings. But with that heavy focus on the national side, will Yahoo7's traffic take a dive if -- heaven forbid -- the team is knocked out of the tournament early? McGrath believes that Australians' perennial interest in the Cup, seen even in years when the country has not been represented, will ensure the site enjoys high traffic levels until the end of the competition.
"While the Socceroos is our focus at the moment, the Web site is clearly not Socceroos 100 percent; for us it's a World cup Web site which has a great emphasis on the Socceroos but is something that can well and truly be used right up until the ninth and 10th of July."