Comment - FIFA Mess Creates Sticky Situation for Sponsors
Anheuser-Busch InBev's Budweiser is the official beer of the FIFA World Cup
The pressure is growing on FIFA ahead of a presidential election that has seen both candidates hauled before the body's ethics committee and only one of them remain standing. Following a series of corruption allegations and high-level suspensions, tomorrow's election - if it goes ahead at all - now looks set to be a mere coronation ceremony for current president Sepp Blatter.
In the mess, FIFA's key sponsors are getting twitchy. Yesterday, for the first time, The Coca-Cola Co went on record to register its concern about events, alongside Adidas and, today, Emirates. Anheuser-Busch InBev, whose Budweiser brand is the official beer of the FIFA World Cup, has said that it "expects FIFA to address and resolve this situation".
If some sponsors are expressing "disappointment" in public, assuming that it is genuine, then one presumes that stronger words are being communicated to FIFA in private. After all, the airing of FIFA's dirty linen doesn't sit too easily with companies eager to push a socially-responsible image.
That said, FIFA is a means to an end for the likes of Coca-Cola and Budweiser. Its World Cup showpiece offers the perfect window dressing for these brands to reinforce and expand their global reach. With the most recent World Cup taking place last year, and the next not due for another three years, it is possible that consumers will not connect the dots.
"I don't think that it will come back on the brands too much," said Stephen Cheliotis, the CEO of The Centre for Brand Analysis. Speaking to just-drinks today (31 May), Cheliotis said that he believes consumers are sophisticated enough to distinguish between a body like FIFA and the products of its sponsors.
"Ordinary consumers understand why those companies are involved [in sponsorships] and understand that they are involved to communicate to a huge audience around the world, which they can't do through many other means," he said.
"It doesn't mean that these brands are in any way closely linked to those particular bodies or scandals that are alleged to have happened," he said. "I think many people would feel: 'what's it got to do with Coke if a FIFA Committee member has got a little brown envelope stuffed with money somewhere?'"
Things are often different if the sponsorship involves one particular celebrity. In March last year, following revelations about Tiger Woods' private life, PepsiCo said that it "no longer sees a role" for the golfer in its marketing efforts.
But, with a largely faceless organisation such as FIFA, sponsorships do not take on the same sense of personal endorsement.
Cheliotis sees the image of a particular sport in general as a bigger problem for sponsors at all levels. Within football, stories about players' lavish lifestyles and big money wages and transfers, together with the scandal at FIFA, could have a detrimental effect on the sport's image.
"Brands could also be potentially tarred with the same image," said Cheliotis, who also chairs the UK Superbrands, Business Superbrands and CoolBrands Councils. "Consumers might say 'those are not the sort of brands that I want influencing me or those close to me'."
As far as FIFA is concerned, some sponsors clearly feel it necessary to show their dissatisfaction in public. For now, though, the problem lies with the football body itself. There has not yet been any evidence of consumers in key markets drawing direct links between FIFA's alleged foul play and particular brands.
The benefits of sponsoring a competition like the FIFA World Cup, meanwhile, more than likely still outweigh the potential negatives.
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