Qatar Bribery Allegations: FIFA Sponsors are Walking on Thin Ice

Hi football marketers,Brazuca final2
When a brand sponsors an event, the rights holder’s positive or negative image has a knock on effect on the brands linked to that event. The past few days, FIFA sponsors spoke up and urged FIFA to clarify Qatar bribery allegations.

World Cup sponsors, who contributed to more than $400 million to FIFA’s $1.4 billion profits over a four-year World Cup cycle, rarely comment on such sensitive issues.

First of all, who are the FIFA sponsors and partners? Let me break in down for you.

The primary tier consists of the FIFA Partners, the second tier of FIFA World Cup Sponsors and the third tier of the National Supporters for each FIFA event.

The six FIFA Partners have the highest level of association with FIFA and all FIFA events as well as playing a wider role in supporting the development of football all around the world, from grassroots right up to the top level at the FIFA World Cup.

This allows FIFA and its Partners to form true partnerships, adding great value to the engagement for both sides.

FIFA World Cup Sponsors have rights to the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup on a global basis. The main rights for a sponsor in this tier are brand association, the use of selected marketing assets and media exposure, as well as ticketing and hospitality offers for the events.

The National Supporter level is the final level of FIFA’s sponsorship structure, allowing companies with roots in the host country of each FIFA event to promote an association in the domestic market.

So what did World Cup Partners said about the Qatar bribery allegations?

Sony was the first of FIFA’s six top-tier World Cup partners to break its silence on the bribery claims published last week and yesterday by Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, calling for the allegations to be “investigated appropriately”. “We continue to expect FIFA to adhere to its principles of integrity ethics and fair play across all aspects of its operations,” the Sony statement added.

Coca-Cola waded into the debate over the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar, piling the pressure on FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter to fully investigate fresh allegations made by the newspaper. Its chief investigator Michael Garcia has not examined them in his 18-month probe of the nine 2018/2022 World Cup bids, which concludes today. 

“Anything that detracts from the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup is a concern to us. But we are confident that FIFA is taking these allegations very seriously and is investigating them thoroughly through the investigatory chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee.

“The FIFA World Cup is a platform that unites people all over the world, inspiring and celebrating the world’s most popular sport while creating memorable experiences for athletes and fans. We believe that through our partnership and continued involvement with FIFA we can help foster optimism and unity, while making a positive difference in the communities we serve.”

“The negative tenor of the public debate te around FIFA at the moment is neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners,” the German sportswear company said in a statement, precisely the same words used in a statement following the FIFA presidential scandal in May 2011. We are confident that the matter is being dealt with as a priority and a long-term and successful partnership with FIFA that we are looking forward to continue”. 

Visa, which in January extended its World Cup sponsorship through the 2022 World Cup, said in a statement: “Our expectation remains that all of our partners maintain strong ethical standards and operate with transparency.” [Source: Football Insider & Irish Times]

In May 2011, I was echoing sponsors and partners concerns following the first bribery allegations. 

It’s critical for a sponsor that the rights holder’s image is positive and dynamic. Partnering with a global sport offers significant return on investment, but it is also a double edge sword. 

Not only a sponsor’s brand image can be tainted and damaged, but fans could decide to boycott brands that are affiliated to a rights holder with a negative image.

Specifically here, FIFA sponsors and partners are extremely cautious not to dissociate themselves from the event, but are raising concerns about bribery allegation.  

They walk on thin ice. How to communicate against bribery allegations without geopardizing your relationships with the rights holder and at the same time still be connected positively to an event that is getting more and more unpopular, leveraging your marketing rights and engage with fans…..

Karl Lusbec

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