Mark Ritson: Caveat Patronus – Let the World Cup Sponsor Beware

One of my best mates is a Scotsman called Martin “Tommo” Thompson. Earlier this year he completed his first ever London Marathon in a very impressive three hours and 58 minutes.

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I take much of the credit for his performance because, with only days to go before the big race, he was still short of his target of raising £2000 for MacMillan Cancer Support. In a fit of immense generosity (I was drunk) I donated the £400 that ensured he reached his final sponsorship target. While I don’t want to dwell, for more than a paragraph or two, on my generous support for worthy causes I would like to point out that I was, officially speaking, Tommo’s main sponsor for the London Marathon.

Despite this vaunted position I did not place any expectations on how he performed. I didn’t ask him to train in a specific manner or achieve a particular time. I didn’t even specify what kind of running equipment Tommo should use for the big race. I simply paid up and then, via this article and other means, boasted about my general good nature and charitable support – leaving Tommo to do all the hard work.

Given recent events in the world of sports sponsorship I think I deserve even more credit for my “hands-off” approach to my sponsorship activities. Contrast my relationship with Tommo with Sony’s (and other sponsors’) recent pronouncements regarding FIFA. As an official sponsor of FIFA and the 2014 World Cup, Sony has been making some very strident demands this week related to the growing accusations of bribery associated with the 2022 award of the World Cup to Qatar.

“As a FIFA partner, we expect these allegations to be investigated appropriately,” Sony’s Tokyo-based spokesman George Boyd announced via email at the weekend. “We continue to expect FIFA to adhere to its principles of integrity, ethics and fair play across all aspects of its operation.”

At a superficial level, at least, Sony’s demands make sense. The Japanese electronics giant is paying FIFA around $30 million a year to be one of its main sponsors and clearly expects value for money. FIFA’s principles, as cited by Boyd, are all outlined in its code of conduct and Sony obviously expects them to be applied assiduously.

But is a sponsor really in a position to start dictating terms to the recipients of its funds about the way it behaves? If I had called Martin Thompson on the eve of his big race to demand certain goals be met I am sure Tommo, a fellow lover of Anglo Saxon language, would have expressed his abject rejection of my demands in an unequivocal Glaswegian manner.

Sony’s demands are especially questionable given that, in FIFA’s defence, it is currently investigating the claims of wrong doing in association with both the Qatar and Russian World Cup bids and will report back in mid-July when its inquiry is concluded. “Our sponsors have not requested anything that is not covered by the on-going investigation by the Ethics Committee,” FIFA exasperatedly pointed out this week. Imagine Tommo’s frustration if I not only demanded he run the race in a certain outfit but that the outfit in question was the one he was already planning to wear.

Add to that the equally confounding issue that neither the Russia nor Qatar World Cup tournaments have anything to do with Sony. Its partnership with FIFA ends this year, long before either of the questionable World Cups will take place. Is it therefore really any of the company’s business? Imagine Tommo’s response if, based on my donation this year, I demand that he runs the New York and Boston marathon in a very specific way in 2018 and 2020. Fruity language would, again I am sure, ensue.

My point is not to vindicate FIFA. But the precedent set by Sony and other sponsors that demand certain behaviours from the organisations they support sends exactly the wrong message about sponsorship.

Caveat Patronus – let the sponsor beware. Those that paid millions to get into bed with FIFA knew exactly what they were getting for their money – both good and bad. If you don’t like it Sony, don’t renew your funding and find something else to spend your money on. I have Tommo’s email address if you’re interested.

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