Sponsors should force change at FIFA but talk of pulling out is nonsense

After his predicted re-election as president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter had two options in the face of FBI corruption investigations  – humility or counter attack. He chose the latter, railing against a “hate” campaign to unseat him conducted by the “English media and the American movement”.

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His re election also caused its brand partners to renew their calls for the sport’s global governing body, led by Blatter, to change. In the words of one, McDonald’s,  “Our expectation is that FIFA will act quickly, decisively and transparently to restore its reputation for the good of the game”.

So, as we were. Blatter is still FIFA president and sponsors are still calling for change.  For the likes of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Visa and Adidas, the status quo presents a conundrum. They do not want to be associated with a tainted brand in FIFA without talking tough nor do they want to lose an association with a tournament in the World Cup that at its best encapsulates all the values they would wish to espouse not to mention a considerable sales opportunity.

You can image the meetings in Atlanta, Oak Brook and Herzogenaurach. ‘We must say something and it has to be strong’. I’d wager, however, that not one had a serious conversation about pulling out. The strongest worded statement, from Visa, threatened a review of its sponsorship if change was not forthcoming but not an actual threat of withdrawal with a timeframe.

That’s not to say that sponsors are not taking the allegations seriously. They have reputations to protect and a genuine desire that the properties they invest in are free of the whiff of corruption.  

And with hundreds of millions paid for the privilege of sponsoring the tournament, they wield considerable clout. Indeed, Blatter is said to be readying a charm offensive and will pay a visit to concerned sponsors to reassure them all is in hand.

But why would they pull out? The World Cup itself is not tainted.  The majority of the world’s football fans, including those from Europe and the US will welcome the next tournament in 2018 with the same enthusiasm as they did the last one, and the one before that. The spirit of togetherness, celebration and excellence that embodies the World Cup will remain as attractive to sponsors as it ever was.

Brands should seek to influence to force change at FIFA. It’s the right thing to do to protect their reputations and, well, the right thing to do. But the World Cup was, is and will remain the supreme sponsorship opportunity for global brands.


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