The Beautiful (Digital) Game

How previewing the World Cup has been elevated to a digital artform


The World Cup.

It’s kind of a big deal.

How big? Well, FIFA, the international organization that regulates national association football, estimates that 3.2 billion people watched live coverage of the 2010 World Cup for a minimum of one minute.

That’s a shade over 22,068,965 viewers per goal.

145 goals, billions of people watching.

This year, the scope’s only widening. Hosting the tournament is going to cost Brazil approximately $14 billion. Every match will be covered by hundreds of cameras. According to figures published in Forbes, television networks will spend $1.7 billion to use those cameras to show the tournament live. Meanwhile, marketers will spend $1.35 billion to have their brands be associated as an official sponsor. FIFA alone expects to pocket $4 billion from the tournament.

So, you know, kind of a big deal.

In sports media, previewing the most important international tournament of the world’s most popular sport is also kind of a big deal. Every media outlet on Earth with even a passing interest in athletics has something to get readers ready for when Brazil and Croatia kickoff on June 12: there are slideshow primers, pundit podcasts, and sub-sites chock full of team-by-team analysis. But here are three outlets that have taken heed of best digital practices to build beautiful, informative guides that elevate the standards for how readers get ready to watch.

FourFourTwo

You’d figure that a publication named after one of soccer’s most traditional formations would provide everything you need to know about the World Cup. So it does—but FourFourTwo’s encyclopedic preview presents the typical facts and figures in an visually engrossing, easily navigable, highly narrative way.

Built with a hearty serving of parallax scrolling, FourFourTwo’s readers can get all the background they need about the tournament without having to click through 32 slides or open a dozen browser tabs—for example, a soccer novice can achieve a complete understanding of World Cup history just by leisurely scrolling. There’s nothing simpler than a 4-4-2 formation; the publication that takes that name obviously agrees when it comes to presenting informative content.

Grantland

Everyone loves video — especially the folks at Grantland, whose dedication to analyzing sports through personality-driven clips is admirable. In this case, Grantland’s Men in Blazers — Roger Bennett and Michael Davies—bring their irreverent-yet-informed thoughts to video. Bennett and Davies leapfrog from providing the context that Chile is the world’s second largest producer of salmon, to providing a legitimate assessment of how Spain’s aging squad will perform in the Brazilian heat, to basing predictions on how far England will advance based on how a cupcake with St. George’s Cross icing tastes.

While not everyone can be as disarmingly funny as Bennett and Davies, the series offers a perfect application of what me and my Atlantic Media Strategies colleagues call a high-low content strategy: treating serious topics (“will these tactics lead to victory?”) with a hearty dose of levity (“let’s let the cupcake decide!”).

SB Nation

Part of Vox, which is always on the bleeding edge of digital publishing, SB Nation has done it again.

Their World Cup preview is incredibly attractive— especially when it is viewed on a tablet. Its structure is, like FourFourTwo’s, built for ease, and its design is beautiful. But the content is king—and SB Nation’s preview is built upon a foundation of focused intelligence that most other outlets cannot match. (Not that we should be surprised; SB Nation’s entire existence is the manifestation of writers and editors who obsessively cover almost every sports team and topic on Earth from an on-the-ground perspective.) Each team and group page offers something for everyone: detailed tactical analysis, player spotlights, how the team performed in qualifying for the tournament—even images of the uniforms for that person who just wants to root for the red team instead of the blue team. But most of all, the content is simply on-point, like this excerpt from the introduction:

In short, something (and probably several somethings) will happen over the next few weeks that will stay with you for the rest of your life. If you’re lucky, it might be the team you support winning the World Cup; if we’re all lucky, it might be a referee taking a ball in the face. It could be funny; it could be sad. For those of you who are new to all this, it might just be the moment you fall in love with soccer. Don’t worry. It’s quite the most beautiful thing anybody could ever hope to fall in love with.

Falling in love: yup, kind of a big deal.