Organisers of the world’s biggest football tournaments are exploring sponsorship deals worth up to £100m for match breaks created by new video assistant referee (VAR) technology that present a lucrative and untapped advertising opportunity.
Fifa, which runs the World Cup, has been approached by companies looking to place their branding in the pauses caused by referees stopping play to review important decisions by watching instant replays. Other competitions, such as Spain’s La Liga, are also considering the idea, according to one person briefed on the discussions.
VAR will be used during the semi-finals of the Uefa Champions League, Europe’s most prestigious club competition, which take place this week.
Tim Crow, an independent sports marketing adviser, estimated VAR was on screen for 27 minutes during last year’s World Cup — a significant amount of airtime given advertising during semi-finals of a big tournament can cost up to £600,000 a minute, according to Ampere Analysis.
“I think it is the biggest sponsorship asset that football has ever created,” said Mr Crow. “Most other advertising is on the side, but VAR is in the middle of the game, part of the game. For a sponsor, that is a dream come true.”
The value of any potential advertising deal would depend on the size and popularity of the competition. Mr Crow estimated that big tournaments, such as the World Cup, could strike deals worth in excess of £50m for just the advertising during the VAR break and more than £100m bundled as an event sponsorship.
VAR reviews represent a rare advertising opportunity in football, because they create a break in play for up to a few minutes at a time, allowing marketers to reach audiences during a match that only breaks for half-time.
“There is no question that if brands had the opportunity to sponsor around VAR they would,” said Mr Crow.
Breaks to review decisions in other sports, such as cricket and American football, already attract advertisers. PepsiCo was the first group to sponsor cricket’s decision review system in 2011, during a series of matches played between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
While many football bodies are exploring the commercial opportunities around VAR, there is still some reluctance to accept sponsorship at a time when the video system remains controversial among some fans, partly because it breaks up a traditionally fluid game.
Fifa said several companies had made advertising offers after it introduced VAR at last year’s World Cup in Russia. The sport’s international governing body said it had so far rejected the offers, saying further development of VAR was “a top priority at the moment”.
Uefa said it was also not considering sponsorship around VAR.
La Liga declined to comment, but one person close to the organisation described it as a “possible opportunity” to seek sponsorship, although much depends on the views of Spain’s football federation, which runs refereeing in the country.
The English Premier League, which will introduce VAR next season, said it was too early to consider such a plan as it was focused on simply making the system operate well.
Nigel Currie, founder of the sports sponsorship consultancy NC partnership, said football organisations were unlikely to rush into dealmaking, fearing first-mover disadvantages and the availability of better contracts. “It takes time to get systems in place and correct procedures and timings,” he said.
But he added that VAR represented “a great new opportunity for football” to develop opportunities for “commercial messaging”.
Additional reporting by Murad Ahmed
Get alerts on Advertising when a new story is published