With sales of exclusive products, online games and contests about who has the greatest number of fans on social networks, Brazilian soccer clubs are battling it out on the Web to reap the bonanza of online marketing.
In this huge, soccer-mad country, which won five World Cup trophies and will host the 2014 edition, more than 83 million people have access to the Internet and some teams have up to 25 million fans.
First division clubs therefore, in addition to having an Internet site, also have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, online television or even a smartphone application.
"The connection with the fan has changed. With the new technologies, clubs are in daily contact with their fans, not just when they go to the stadium," explained Guilherme Costa, of the Maquina de Esporte website, which specializes in sport marketing.
Sao Paulo's Corinthians club went so far as to create a "Corinthians People's Republic" with 190,000 "citizens" fans, its own currency, embassy and identity papers.
This online concept, created in 2010, was elected "idea of the Year" by Worldwide Creative Board, a contest among advertisers.
"The goal is not to have the largest number of fans on Facebook, but to transform them into consumers," said Marcus Duarte, head of marketing at Rio's Flamengo club. Three of the 13 members of his staff are assigned exclusively to giving the team visibility on the Web.
"The Corinthians online store sells as many products as 15 physical stores and reach consumers wherever they may be in Brazil," said Eduardo Generoso, head of sports projects at ESM, an online marketing agency for several first division clubs.
"With fans' online memberships, sales of sports paraphernalia, sales of advertising space on their sites and Web-TV, clubs can earn on average one million reais (390,000 euros) per month," he added.
The Internet can also be used to conduct permanent marketing surveys. According to the Ibope institute, 86 percent of Brazilians who have access to the web use social networks, a percentage much higher than in other countries.
The ESM agency was able to draw up a data base on one million of Corinthians fans, including names, age and sex but sometimes also their consuming habits as detailed on Facebook or from their online purchasing history.
"That's how we noticed that they like to travel. The club therefore set up a partnership with an agency and now sells them trips to Japan where the team will play at the end of the year," said Generoso.
According to Guilherme Costa, the Internet also highlights the popularity of the players among fans.
"Clubs then use that to negotiate advertising contracts with brand companies which use the image of their players," he noted.
On Vasco's Facebook page, the latest contest rewards fans who will best promote a real estate company, which is a partner of the club.
"We still have a lot to learn from abroad regarding online marketing, but we are beginning to reach cruise control," said Marcus Duarte, Flamengo's marketing chief.
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