Expectations among critics of FIFA and president Sepp Blatter that morally-outraged sponsors will come riding to the rescue of transparently pristine governance in world football should prepare for a significant disappointment.
The prospect of high-roller sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Visa, Adidas, Budweiser and comparatively new signing Emirates exerting serious pressure for change was raised first last spring. That was when company spokesmen found their phones buzzing with questions about potential walk-outs.
A clutch of similar expressions of concern were raised and then it all went quiet again once Blatter had been re-elected and the Ethics Committee had got to work on Mohamed bin Hammam and a couple of dozen Caribbean officials whose main offence appears to have been their reluctance to assist with inquiries rather than whether they pocketed the cash (Hence the light-touch sentencing: another story for another time).
Blatter’s ill-judged – to say the least – comments last week about racism in football prompted a similar pavlovian response from the media which was quick, once more, to bark at the sponsors. Similar expressions of concern were raised.
The only slight snag amid all of this was that, a week earlier, a wandering Emirates executive – in Australia for the Melbourne Cup horse race – had chattered away about the upset caused by FIFA’s failure even to refer its travails to its sponsors. Once back in Dubai, that same executive was issuing a rather more controlled statement about the airline’s considerations ahead of World Cup sponsorship renewal talks next spring.
However, the pragmatic truth of the matter has been explained by marketing expert Jeff Slack, once the social media guru of Internazionale and now with IMG.
Asked how sponsors’ patience – or lack of it – with a major client such as FIFA and the World Cup, Slack said: “There are very, very few properties like the World Cup which are a unique asset – and which offer such a worldwide reach, including into Asia which is becoming increasingly important.
“FIFA is now coming around to the sponsorship renewals for 2018 and 2022 and, from what one understands, is doing very well and will continue to do as long as the sponsors can cope with some of the challenges organisations such as FIFA face from time to time.”
In essence, sponsorship opportunities such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games are so big that no sponsor in its corporate right mind would walk away from the table.
Just remember, for example, the fury of MasterCard when it was dumped by FIFA in favour of Visa.
The value of a World Cup or Olympic sponsorship is not only to be found in the positive opportunity for worldwide outreach; it is also to be found in shutting out a multinational’s main rivals (Coca-Cola sign up to shut out Pepsi; Visa to shut out MasterCard and American Express; Adidas to shut out Nike).
Just think how happy it would Qatar Airways to see Emirates fly away.
Bad publicity? One is reminded of the old British boxing promoter who said: “I don’t mind what the papers print as long as they spell my name right.”
By Keir Radnedge