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Dot.coms Enjoy World Cup

While many Chinese soccer fans were disappointed with the national team's performance at the World Cup - not to mention the early exists of favorites Argentina, Italy and France - Internet companies on the mainland are pulling in big profits from the event.

With China making its debut in soccer's biggest tournament, hundreds of millions of people across the country have been paying close attention to the games, but afternoon matches are tough to watch for those with a job pushing many to the Internet for regular updates on the action.

All those eyeballs are turning advertisers onto Websites offering news about the games, scores, and even live video feeds of the action.

"The World Cup was born to help Internet companies make money," said Zhang Chaoyang, chief executive officer of Sohu.com, one of China's leading Internet portals.

Sohu is doing booming business, partially because they offer video of all the games - a practice that is legally question-able to say the least since the company doesn't own broadcast rights for the event.

Sohu has attracted 12 sponsors and 30 advertisers to its World Cup site. Yahoo's China branch credits the World Cup for its success in meeting its second- quarter's advertisement quota, noting that they have even sold 25 percent of the third-quarter's quota.

Internet executives said many companies unrelated to sports are willing to publish ads online during the event, because the first World Cup to include a team from China has attracted the attention of more than just average sports fans.

According to a TV rating survey in eight large cities by China Cen-tral Television, women made up 39.4 percent of the aud-ience for China's loss to Turkey.

"More than 10 million unique surfers visit our site a day," said L. C. Chang, vice president of Sina.com. Sina, which sponsors China's national soccer teams, claims to be China's most- popular Website, a title Sohu is also competing for. Both are Nasdaq-listed.

Yahoo's Chinese version of the official Website of 2002 FIFA World Cup has signed up Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp., a domestic travel agency and MasterCard as advertisers.

Mobile phone short-message services, e-commerce and even online live broadcasting may contribute to dot.com com-panies revenue.

Sohu is charging 4 yuan (48 US cents) per game for its video feeds, with the fee being charged to users' phone bills.

The company is also selling two models of puffy foxes holding a football for 25 yuan each. The fox is the official symbol of Sohu, which is Chinese for search fox.

Sina reported that more than 300,000 users have subscribed to its SMS goal news service, which sends a message to a subscriber's mobile phone every time a goal is scored during the tournament.

The site is also making money by offering World Cup pictures for users to download. A picture of Bora Milutinovic, China's coach, is priced at 1.5 yuan.

Sina said it expects to rake in 11.5 million to 12 million yuan in revenues from its World Cup project, but Chang said the project will only break even. Sohu's Zhang said he is very optimistic about the profit they will earn from this football festival, but he isn't willing to discuss exact numbers just yet.

(eastday.com June 22, 2002)

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