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World Cup Countdown: On the Ground with GMR's Celso Schvartzer

GMR's World Cup Countdown taps our football experts around the globe,with a monthly look at the challenges and excitement that brands and fans willexperience leading up the 2014 World Cup.

Celso Schvartzer, a carioca (Rio-born person - Rio is charming!), is based in SãoPaulo and is GMR’s Latin American Lead. Celso is a former executive at Coca-ColaBrazil and the Brazilian Olympic Committee, and a devoted fan of the FIVE timeworld champion Brazil national football team.

The World Cup is a year out, and Brazil is getting ready. I truly believe we will deliver a fun, warm World Cup which people will enjoy and remember as a fantastic experience. That said, we in the business certainly have our logistical challenges set out for us. Here are the big challenges from my vantage point.

1. Air travel. To understand some of the challenges facing the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, think back to the 1994 World Cup in the US.

Why the comparison with the US and not France, Japan-Korea, Germany or even South Africa? Answer: flight times – both countries are large ones. Back in ’94, Brazil played the two initial games at Stanford Stadium in California, the third in Detroit—some five hours away by air—and the fourth, against the U.S. on a memorable July 4th, back in Stanford once again.

Although the government has repeatedly mentioned refurbishment in our airports, they are not even close to the standards I’ve seen in other big events. Overcrowded, underwhelming concessions, and inconsistent transportation services are among the problem that domestic and international tourists may face during the Games.

Also, weather. Remember that the World Cup will be held during winter in the southern hemisphere. And yes, there’s cold weather in the southern states of the country, in cities like Porto Alegre, Curitiba, São Paulo and sometimes in Cuiabá. And, sometimes, because of the fog and low visibility, the airports are closed for a few hours in the morning. This includes Rio domestic airport too.

My advice: Leave ample time for arrival and departure. And for those planning hospitality packages, don’t leave the trip for the same day.

2. Stadium (and overall) security. This one’s a cultural observation. The World Cup brings some differences that we, Brazilian, are not used too: security inspection at venues, for instance. So, the lines tend to be long, as the test events are showing.

My advice: Factor this in from the start. If people spend a lot of time in lines, will they spend time in the commercial displays inside the venues? A point to discuss. Brands would do well to consider not just the fans’ passion for the game, but their mindset as they navigate the events.

And since we're talking about security, Brazil is putting in place a phenomenal security plan, with the support of several different countries with experience hosting large events. We have a long tradition of hosting big events with little or no problems at all, except those that happen everywhere (pickpockets). For example, Rio's New Year Celebration at Copacabana Beach creates a flow of more than 2 MM people heading to one place with zero problems (well, maybe heavy traffic and waiting 2 hours for a cab).

Carnival in Rio and in Salvador is also a great experience for millions of domestic and international tourists. Just be cautious, as you need to be in most of the big cities in the world.

3. Lodging. Prices are high, and the availability for high level lodging (5 stars hotels) is limited. Services tend to be low, with the honorable exception of S. Paulo and maybe few in Rio. In most of them, the security level is very high, so no worries. There are a lot of new hotels under construction in Rio, but few will be ready for the World Cup. So, please give us two chances: come for the World Cup and then again for the Olympic Games.

4. Data/telecom. Our typical Brazilian “last minute” delivery may limit services at the venues. For example, if the builders are behind, the data and telecom companies may not be able to set up their infrastructures in time. This would directly impact merchandising and concessions, which rely on credit/debit cards for their transactions. It would also impact social media capabilities within and around the stadiums.

My advice: Have a contingency plan, and work with partners who are on the ground and familiar with the logistics. No amount of “what if” is inappropriate for an event of this scale.

5. Last minute investment. What concerns me most, looking at what has been done for the Confed Cup so far, is brands’ perception that investing at the very last minute will be good enough to generate brand awareness and recognition as a World Cup or Brazilian National Team sponsor. This applies to both the FIFA local and global sponsors and national team sponsors.

Except for those brands that are really “specialists” in big event sponsorships, the majority of brands are going very basic, with TV ads, a little social media, and promotional “win tickets for the Confed Cup“ campaigns.

My advice: As a sponsor, you have the rights, so go ahead – take advantage of the opportunity and create ground–breaking activations. If you don't do, you leave the field wide open for others to step in with ambush/guerilla tactics.

Final note: Keep the big picture in mind

This is the world’s sport, with millions of fans to flood the stadiums of Brazil next summer.

Yes, the event is complex and the country presents unique challenges. Those aren’t reasons to drag your feet – they’re reasons to plan smarter than ever. To be strategic about your partners on the ground and your methods of activation. And to start as early as possible.

But it’d be a miss not to be here, and be here in style.

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