Soccer’s gilded darling held court in Costa Rica last week when the World Cup Trophy Tour brought the coveted prize to the Pedregal Exhibition Center, west of San José, for a two-day showing. However, with the 2006 World Cup less than four months away, the country’s business and tourism leaders are dazzled by another prospect altogether: the golden opportunity Costa Rica’s appearance at the tournament represents for a small country given the chance to advertise before a captive international audience.
Though Costa Rica’s chances of winning it all may be slim, the country’s businesses emerged victorious the day Costa Rica was chosen, by random draw, for the inaugural match June 9 against host Germany. With more than one billion people expected to watch the opening game, the government has launched an effort to promote Costa Rican exports and vacation spots. The National Coffee Institute (ICAFE) has made coffee a major focus of such efforts by sponsoring the preparation of the National Team (known as La Selección Nacional, or La Sele) for the tournament.
Though specific plans for promotion during the tournament are still in the planning stages, officials took a first step Feb. 9 at the Hotel Corobicí in western San José, when President Abel Pacheco kicked off the campaign by signing a decree that declares that La Sele’s participation in the World Cup is “of national interest.” The decree creates an inter-institutional committee to oversee the promotion campaign. Participants include the ministries of Foreign Relations, Foreign Trade, Culture and Tourism, as well as the semi-public Foreign Trade Promotion Authority (PROCOMER) and National Soccer Federation (FEDEFUTBOL).
Members of the National Team, sitting in the audience, looked on, and the President praised their “courage and patriotism.”
Following the press conference, they lunched with Pacheco. (On the menu: chicken and rice for the athletes, who served themselves from a buffet, and what appeared to be filet mignon with sautéed mushrooms and potatoes for Pacheco and the other government officials, served by waiters.)
“This is a concerted effort,” Pacheco said, adding that its purpose “is clear and simple: to take advantage of the international exposure Costa Rica will have because of the participation of its soccer team in order to project an integrated image of the country.”
Foreign Trade Minister Manuel González, also present at the press conference, told The Tico Times the tentative initial budget for the campaign is $50,000, though he hopes this is only the beginning.
“We know it’s a little, we know we need more, but making the (inter-institutional) agreement a reality doesn’t fall entirely on the shoulders of PROCOMER,” he said. “We want this to serve as a kind of seed capital that can attract the efforts and contribution not only of other state institutions – though we know their resources are limited – but also… the private sector.”
It’s all part of a larger, ongoing effort to create a “Costa Rican brand,” González said. PROCOMER and the Foreign Trade Ministry announced a new promotion campaign to that end, including studies of foreign markets and an increased foreign trade-fair schedule, last month (TT, Jan. 27).
Hermes Navarro, president of the soccer federation, said the goal of the campaign is to create a unified image of Costa Rica to the world.
“We are going to ensure not only that Costa Rica is present futbolísticamente (in terms of soccer) at the World Cup… but also Costa Rica as a whole,” Navarro said.
A promotion spot shown at the beginning of the press conference highlighted Costa Rica’s biodiversity and environmental protections; lack of an army; convenience as a travel destination; and exports from coffee to flowers to high-tech products.
“Costa Rica is a country that’s different,” the narrator announced.
Though advertising during the World Cup will be designed with an international audience in mind, the European Union is of particular importance, especially for coffee.
Juan Bautista Mora, head of ICAFE, said Germany is the second-largest market for Costa Rican coffee, receiving 15% of the country’s exports, while the European Union as a whole buys 38%.
Other elements of the campaign in the works are the opening of a trade office in Belgium, partly to handle marketing during the World Cup, and a trade fair to be held in Germany during the tournament.
The inaugural match against Germany will take place in Munich. La Sele, in Group A, will then face Ecuador and Poland. The tournament will be Costa Rica’s second consecutive World Cup.
The team defeated South Korea Saturday, 1-0, in a friendly match held in Oakland, California.
Continuing its preparation for the 2006 World Cup, La Sele will face Iran, in Tehran, on March 1.