In just over two years 24 elderly men, from 24 different countries, will meet in a Zurich boardroom to decide whether England will stage the largest single sporting event on the planet, the World Cup, in 2006.
Collectively the men are the Fifa Executive Committee, the most influential grouping in the sports governing body, and the campaign to win them over has started to hot up although formally all lobbying has been put on hold until after this summer’s final on July 12.
But it is not just a private lobbying effort. At least two of the bidders, England and Germany, have hired advertising agencies to run worldwide campaigns to support their bids. The final bill for the global marketing of this summer’s finals themselves will top 300m, but the importance of marketing to the bidding process that precedes the next tournament has never been greater.
“It’s the biggest new business pitch in the world,” says Team Saatchi chief executive Michael Parker, a member of The Sports Council until this year, who has experience of bidding for events like the Olympics and the World Cup. “And as soon as you declare you want the games, you’re in the communications and image business.
“Where it makes a difference is when the bidding cities are quite close. That is when two years of careful PR, image presentation, and advertising could be enough to shade it.”
Saatchi & Saatchi UK joint managing director Adam Crozier has been hired by the England 2006 bid to direct its communications. Three weeks ago the German football association appointed chief executive officer Michael Rohler of DMB&B Germany to head its communications effort. South Africa, Brazil, and Argentina have also joined the fray.
A spokesman for DMB&B says the agency is finalising its plans for the campaign and refuses to comment. But the first advertising for the England bid, apart from hoardings at international matches, breaks in the FA Cup final programme.
The committee is trying to raise 10m to finance its bid – the German FA will spend a similar amount. So far Nationwide, Littlewoods, Marks & Spencer, Umbro and BA have signed up as sponsors of the England bid but it is seeking a further five. These companies will promote the campaign through their outlets and promotional material and in return they get the right to use the FA’s name in association with its bid.
Their motivation is simple. During the four weeks of Euro 96 250,000 people visited the UK and spent 125m. Observers expect this to double easily if the World Cup comes to England.
Crozier says the England bid will rest on four key points – England as the home of football; the track record of staging Euro 96; the atmosphere of stadia like Wembley, Old Trafford and Anfield; and the country’s developed travel and tourism infrastructure.
Apart from not having invented the game, Germany can claim much the same – it hosted the World Cup and the European Championships in 1974 and 1976, respectively. Argentina, to some extent can also make similar claims – it hosted the World Cup in 1978. But both South Africa and Brazil would have to make large capital investments in stadia to host the finals, which could cost anything up to 500m.
It would cost the UK about 40m to stage the World Cup – a bill which would have to be picked up by the organising committee. It would recoup its money from selling secondary sponsorship and merchandising rights.
Money from headline sponsorship, sold by sports rights company International Sports & Leisure, worth about 280m, and TV money go directly to Fifa.
Though the 24 members of Fifa’s Executive Committee are the key target, Crozier sees the bodies he has to influence structured like a pyramid. At the top is obviously the Executive Committee. After that come the continental federations: the AFC in Asia, CAF in Africa, Concacaf in North and Central America and the Caribbean, Conebrol in South America, Uefa in Europe, and OFC in Oceania.
Then comes the 198 national football associations affiliated to Fifa. After that there are opinion formers in the UK like broadcasters and MPs, and finally the general public.
“The final decision will be taken by only 24 people,” says Crozier. “But it is important that they are seen to have made the right decision. The reason we want to reach other people is because the committee cannot live in a vacuum: they talk to other people. We want to create the right atmosphere around them so there is a ground swell of opinion for the England bid.”
The bid has also recruited “ambassadors”, who so far include Tony Blair, BA chief executive Sir Colin Marshall, sports minister Tony Banks, and Sir Bobby Charlton. Apart from this, the team will target Executive Committee members at worldwide public events to sell the idea of England as a World Cup host. “We have a simple message. We just want to tell it as often as we can,” says Crozier.
However, bids this size are never simply about which country has the best facilities and campaign, politics play just as big a part.
Until now the pattern for 15 previous finals was to alternate them between Europe and the Americas. The Japan/South Korea World Cup in 2002 is the first time this cycle has been broken. As the game has grown the pressure to pass the competition from continent to continent increases. And this will give impetus to the South Africa bid, which will be promoted as a way of developing the game and investing in the country’s infrastructure.
National associations will also put pressure on their Executive Committee members to bring the games to their home country or at least their continent.
Glen Kirton, head of football at sports sponsorship agency ISL, says: “The local FAs have huge influence over where the finals go. Sponsors and TV companies also have some say in the process. They want the competition to go to a developed country because it makes it easier for them to work, but they are not decisive to the process.”
Kirton adds: “There is a lot of pressure to move the finals around now and I would suspect that it would go out of Europe again this time.”
The protocol is that countries don’t begin lobbying hard for the finals in the immediate run-up to another final. However, as soon as the finals end on July 12 the phoney war will be over and the long battle of attrition begins in earnest.