Brazil's World Cup 'must have'? New TVs.

Sales in Brazil are soaring ahead of the World Cup, as Brazilians splurge on expensive sets to watch all the matches in the comfort of their homes.

Eraldo Peres/AP
Children take pictures of the official ball of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, known as the Brazuca, in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Brazil is hosting the World Cup soccer tournament which starts in June.

Winning the World Cup is only one of several jobs for young Brazilian soccer star Neymar da Silva Santos Junior: National media is looking to him as a cultural spokesperson. His evangelical church is calling him out as a role model. And soccer legend Pelé is expecting him to represent his No. 10 jersey when the world’s biggest sporting event kicks off in Brazil on June 12.

Oh, and he’s also trying to sell you a TV.

Life-size cardboard cutouts of Mr. da Silva Santos, known by his fans simply as Neymar, welcome you into Bemol department store in World Cup host city Manaus -- and into electronics stores across the world, in fact wherever his sponsor Panasonic is sold. Wearing Brazil’s green-and-gold colors, Neymar points to his head and urges you buy that Panasonic flatscreen LCD television.

If only all his jobs were so simple. Television sales in Brazil are soaring ahead of the World Cup as Brazilians splurge on expensive sets to watch all the matches in the comfort of their homes. The TVs that Neymar is selling cost multiple times more than the reduced-price tickets that tournament organizer FIFA sold to Brazilians, but they’re still flying off the shelves even as tickets to some World Cup matches go unsold.

Buying a new TV every four years for the tournament is "a historical fact in Brazil," says Reginaldo Nogueira, a professor of international economics at Ibmec business school in Belo Horizonte. “My father used to tell me that his grandfather bought their first color TV to watch the 1974 World Cup,"  Mr. Nogueira says.

"We lost," he says of Brazil's defeat that year, "but we lost in color.”

The TV sales underscore that this isn't just a nation of angry anti-FIFA protesters, despite headline-dominating protests over the tournament’s high costs and construction-related corruption. Many Brazilians are excited for the World Cup and anticipate doing nothing but watch TV for 31 days, with shopping malls expecting a sharp slowdown in foot traffic and schools and government offices planning to close on days when Brazil plays.

“In Brazil, we are in love with soccer,” says Sheila Sobreila, marketing manager of Bemol department store where TV sales are up about 30 percent this year, which she attributes directly to the World Cup and its local sponsor. 

That’s evident in production data coming out of the Manaus free trade zone. This northeast jungle city is the source of most Brazilian TVs because of generous tax incentives for companies from Panasonic to Samsung, which means that national demand is reflected in production here.

Manaus produced more than 5 million televisions in the first three months of 2014, up from 2.8 million in the same period last year.

The data also shows Brazilians are ditching their old TVs for more expensive models, as happened during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

But it's not just in World Cup host cities where TV sales are up. In Malaysia, big-screen television sales are reportedly up 20 - 40 percent this year as companies promote soccer deals. Meanwhile European retailer Darty and Samsung both predict the tournament will boost TV sales as well.

For Paulo Roberto Silva, a Brazilian restaurant owner outside Manaus, investing in new TVs is an easy way to draw in more business during the soccer tournament, which is expected to bring more than a half-million foreign tourists to Brazil. He's spending more than $3,000 on two of Neymar’s big-screen Panasonic TVs, which he hopes will help him compete with rival restaurants he says are doing the same.

Buying two TVs on credit is also worth the extra debt for Pablo Hayden.

“My wife doesn’t mind,” Mr. Hayden says of the roughly $1,100 price tag, adding that he also bought $27 tickets with his brother for the USA vs. Portugal match here in Manaus. “The only thing that matters is your well-being and comfort.”

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