By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/6/2006 9:45:07 PM ET 2006-06-07T01:45:07

LONDON — Anyone wanting to deal with business contacts outside North America, beware. For a month starting Friday you may find people around the world unavailable.

A billion and a half people will have their attention turned to their TVs to watch soccer’s World Cup, an once-every-four-years event that eclipses any other in the passion that it stirs.

In addition, 4.5 million fans are expected to arrive in Germany, where the tournament is being hosted this year, many of them without tickets. So, unless you’re scalping tickets or selling beer or bratwurst, don’t bother.

Adjusting schedules
And scalpers look set to clean up. A survey conducted by Braun into what men would do in order to score a ticket said half would give up sex, and 10 percent would sell an internal organ.

Meanwhile, the Portuguese parliament has changed its schedule so that it does not clash with the games, and in Bangladesh a university suspended its students' final exams until after the tournament.

In Britain alone, two billion dollars will be placed in bets on the games, and interest rate decisions are being deferred because of the effect the cup has on spending patterns.

Marketing and advertisers win
It's not all slowdown, though. What some call the “Greatest Show on Earth” provides some of the Greatest Marketing Opportunities on Earth.

Top of the list is the host country. Using native supermodel Claudia Schiffer as spokesperson, it is attempting one of the most ambitious re-branding campaigns in history: From the nation that brought Hitler into power to a country at ease with itself.

Wrapped only in a German flag, Schiffer will be shown on billboards across the world with the caption "Come over to my place."

Germany hedging bets
But contrary to the old saying, the German government knows there is such a thing as bad publicity. 

To prevent this, Chancellor Angela Merkel has described security measures as unprecedented. More than a 100,000 police will be on duty while NATO AWACS planes will be patrolling the skies. 

Training has taken place for every imaginable scenario, including chemical attacks, and more than 300 international police specialists from around the world are arriving to help out.

After terrorism, hooliganism is the biggest concern.  While the British are the best known — and more than 3,000 known U.K. troublemakers have had to surrender their passports — one of the biggest threats comes from a quarter of a million Polish fans coming to Germany, many of them believed to be preparing for fights with German supporters.

An obsessed president
The concerns are not reserved for common-or-garden thugs. One potential diplomatic nightmare has emerged in the form of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an obsessive soccer fan, who has said he wants to support his team in Germany. But Jewish groups are demanding his arrest if he arrives in Germany — for the crime of denying the Holocaust, a punishable offense in Germany.

It's still unclear whether Ahmadinejad will attend the tournament; however, he was recently seen proudly posing with Iran’s national team as they presented him with a team jersey emblazoned with his name on the back.

Even tickets to training for sale
The clear favorite for the tournament is Brazil. They have been preparing in Switzerland in a specially built training ground.

No expense was spared on the $18 million facility — even the grass on the soccer field was matched precisely to that in Berlin, where the final will be held, at a cost of more than $1 million.

But given that 45,000 fans are paying $18 a ticket just to watch Brazil’s training sessions and there are 2,500 journalists visiting the training camp, the value of these superstars to sports marketing companies is clear. 

Long shot: Team U.S.A.
As for the USA team, there is little hope they will get past the first stage, given that they have to face Italy and the Czech Republic. (Their odds are 80 to one to win the Cup.)

But if you want to take the opinion of one of the 1.5 billion armchair experts, I think they may provide a surprise.

Charles Sabine is an NBC News correspondent based in London.

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