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June 9, 2014 6:21 pm
Budweiser added its name to the roll call of World Cup sponsors voicing concern about allegations swirling around the Qatar 2022 tournament, while a defiant Fifa president Sepp Blatter rounded on its critics for what he dubbed the “Qatargate” affair.
Ahead of one of the most critical weeks of his 16 years as president, Mr Blatter has never had to confront such an open display of disquiet from Fifa’s financial backers.
Anheuser-Busch, parent company of Budweiser, a second-tier World Cup sponsor, said: “We are concerned about the situation and are monitoring developments. We expect Fifa to take all necessary steps to address the issue.”
BP, whose Castrol brand is another second-tier sponsor, also called on Fifa to deal with the allegations in “a right and proper manner”.
According to insiders at the sponsors, the statements were co-ordinated.
“It is pretty obvious,” said one insider. “The sponsors realise these repeated allegations are not good for anybody, not good for Fifa and not good for the sponsors.” Fifa, was feeling the pressure from sponsors, he added.
As Brazil prepares for the start of the World Cup on Thursday, Mr Blatter was shoring up his own position, corralling Fifa members to support his campaign for re-election for a fifth four-term.
Responding to allegations in the Sunday Times about the way Qatar won the right to host the 2022 tournament, he told a meeting of Asian football officials in São Paulo: “The way the British press have started this Qatargate, I do not exactly know the rationale behind it. But we have to maintain the unity in Fifa.”
Qatar has always maintained it won the bid on merit. But in a nod to Fifa’s critics, Mr Blatter said Michael Garcia, the US attorney examining the allegations, would address Fifa member gathering this week in São Paulo.
Sponsors do not provide as much income to Fifa as broadcasters, who make up around 60 per cent of the governing body’s revenues. Fifa estimates it will make $5bn of revenues in 2015-18 – $2.7bn from broadcast deals and $2.3bn from a combination of sponsorship, hospitality and ticketing.
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The top six sponsors are each paying €40m-€70m for their four-year deals, according to sponsor insiders. One said they spend double that amount promoting their deals through media campaigns.
Sponsors react in different ways to controversies affecting the sports brands they support.
Nike, for example, has stuck with Tiger Woods despite the golfer’s sullied reputation. The company only ended its support for Lance Armstrong when the cyclist’s fall from grace was all but complete. But it parted company with Paralympian Oscar Pistorius almost immediately after he was arrested on suspicion of his girlfriend’s murder.
Fifa’s tarnished reputation is usually brushed aside by its sponsors. They deflect it by emphasising how they are sponsors of the World Cup rather than the football governing body. One sponsor insider said: “Nobody loves Fifa.”
Simon Chadwick, sports business professor at Coventry University, said there was an emerging “market-driven morality” governing whether sponsors stick with tarnished sports brands.
But though World Cup sponsors might suffer from reputation damage and even adverse sales through association with Fifa, they face big strategic calls.
“These are huge investments to simply walk away from,” he said. Furthermore, withdrawal “potentially cedes control and power to a market rival”.
Adidas, a World Cup sponsor since 1970, which is signed up until 2030, began its marketing programme last summer promoting the national teams of Spain, Argentina, Germany and others. It is targeting €2bn in football product sales this year.
The German sportswear brand, for whom the World Cup is the biggest test of its battle with rival Nike to dominate the football market, said while it was global partners of Fifa, “what’s important for us is to activate around the world”.
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