Sponsors caught in cross-fire in battle to bring down FIFA

Suddenly, piling money into football sponsorship doesn't look like quite such a no-brainer for the likes of Coca-Cola...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 25 Nov 2014
In recent years, big brands have been eager to lavish their marketing dollars on football sponsorship because they expect it to have huge reputational benefits - thanks to the game's huge demographic reach, associating themselves with events like the FIFA World Cup must have seemed like a no-brainer. But judging by the events of the last few days, they've been too slow to recognise the potential reputational damage of FIFA's myriad governance issues - and now it seems to be blowing up in their faces…

It's not for us to examine the ins and outs of the latest shenanigans at FIFA, with fresh claims and counter-claims apparently emerging by the hour about this tawdry cash-for-votes business. But what's abundantly clear is that the internal workings of FIFA are a mess. Even if it turns out there's nothing untoward going on (which is right up there with Swansea's chances of winning the Premier League next year), the extent of the internecine warfare demonstrates that this is a deeply dysfunctional organisation.

What's more, this is hardly new news: for years there have been complaints about the way FIFA was being run, particularly after the farcical failure of England's 2018 World Cup bid, and the shock decision to award the 2022 tournament to Qatar (a filthy rich but baking-hot desert country with no footballing pedigree whatsoever – is it any wonder eyebrows were raised?). But nobody seemed particularly minded (or possibly able) to do anything about it - including the raft of corporate sponsors whose money effectively bankrolled the organisation.

Since President Sepp Blatter runs FIFA as his own personal fiefdom, those who pay the piper arguably had the greatest capacity to call the tune. However, they don't seem to have done so – at least not publicly. And now they're getting caught in the cross-fire: the 'Blatter Out' campaign has been encouraging people to attack the sponsors too – which is why Coca-Cola, Adidas, and this morning Emirates have come out publicly and expressed their concerns about events at FIFA. They'll have no wish to be seen to be propping up Blatter, and they'll be well aware that they're now associated with a tarnished brand.

Football - and the World Cup in particular - is so popular that it's hard to see these sponsors withdrawing their support completely. But if they do suffer some collateral reputational damage as a result of this fiasco, they've only got themselves to blame - because they should have been encouraging FIFA to put its house in order before it got anything like this far. If only for their own sakes.

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