Mobile Operators Scored an Own Goal at the World Cup

With the World Cup now over, I was curious to see whether the mobile industry had used the event to promote new services and drive up usage. More so given that before the tournament started many retailers around the world reported healthy sales of goods and merchandise related to the World Cup.

Before the opening game I noticed that few mobile operators were making much noise about the tournament. Orange in the UK was offering free football shirts with selected Samsung devices. In some European countries Vodafone was offering a mixture of World Cup content, including video clips and live streaming of games. In Portugal it secured rights to broadcast all 64 matches. In Spain, it partnered with Digital+ to show all matches live on 3G mobile phones. And Vodafone Italia was offering a range of services through its Vodafone Calcio package.

These are some example promotions, but I’ve struggled to find many others. On this evidence, I think operators could have done much more. They seemed content to wait for a surge in calls, text messages and data traffic during the World Cup, rather than generating revenue in other areas such as content or advertising. Of course, the many phone owners signed up to flat-rate bundles probably wouldn’t have spent any more during the tournament.

In my view, mobile operators missed an open goal. They should have been using the event to offer and promote new services. Our survey of young adults in major European markets found sports sites were among the top five most popular mobile Internet destinations among men. And many operators have identified sports as a primary category that drives up usage of other services: in Orange’s April Digital Media Index, the operator said that Sky Sports 1 and 2 were the most accessed channels by its phone owners.

What I did see during the World Cup was a plethora of football-related apps in software stores. The success of applications from ESPN, ITV, the Daily Telegraph and others shows that people want to do more on their phones than talk and text. ESPN developed an app specifically for the World Cup that generated more than 2.5 million downloads. That’s really impressive, and the company claims that on average a million people accessed the app each day of the tournament. The Daily Telegraph‘s application generated 100,000 downloads in its first week on Apple’s App Store.

A key lesson in this is that media companies are embracing mobile as part of multi-platform strategies. They’ve benefited hugely from the World Cup. Other companies — especially mobile network operators — should take note and prepare for the next major sporting event.