Andrew, Woodward, sports marketing consultant and former global lead of Visa Inc’s brand and sponsorship communications.
Last night (Tuesday) Sydney time, I spent 45 minutes on the phone with a journalist from Reuters in Berlin discussing the FIFA and sponsors issue. I awoke this morning at 5.30 Sydney time and by habit reached for the iPhone as I always do. There was an email from her asking “What’s your reaction to Blatter’s resignation?”. After checking that I wasn’t dreaming, I sent her a two word response “problem solved”. It is simple as that.
For football, this is like the Berlin wall coming down. It ends a period of dubious history. It ushers is a new era for football. The public and media have, quite rightly, got their scalp. Blatter had to go. Football gets the new beginning it needs. Certainly much will come down to who replaces Blatter but reform under anyone but him has a much greater chance of success.
Who won? Sponsors? No. The pressure from the public, media and football family (most notably from UEFA) won. This week, UEFA is meeting in Berlin. It was going to consider withdrawing from the FIFA World Cup unless Blatter went. No European nations means no World Cup. If this happens, FIFA defaults on host country, broadcasting and sponsor contracts and it is game over for the organisation. The easiest way to avoid this was Blatter resigning. He did and the short term problem is solved.
But surely it was the sponsor pressure? No. Even Blatter in his announcement didn’t mention the sponsors. In referring to his re-election Friday night Europe time when announcing his intentions today, he said: “This mandate does not seem to be supported by everybody in the world of football – supporters, clubs, players, those who inspire life in football, as much as we do at FIFA”. The media organisations that paid FIFA $2.5 billion to televise the ‘beautiful game’ 2011 to 2014 didn’t rate a mention. Nor did the sponsors who put $1.6 billion in FIFA’s tin over the same period.
FIFA’s next big PR problem is the staging of the tournament in Qatar in 2022. Quite simply, this cannot proceed. This is a disaster on so many fronts. The public, media, football family and sponsors will demand action. There are the serious questions about the bidding process; the venue construction program is killing many workers and, the integrity of the game is at stake with poor scheduling and a way less than optimal player and spectator experience. FIFA could pull the rights today, wear the breach of contract sanctions and give a new host seven years to prepare. That’s more than enough time. Most Olympics host cities only get seven years to organise the event which is many times more complex as a FIFA World Cup. Qatar will be a “PR crisis” for FIFA as long as it remains the host of the tournament.
There are many other issues for FIFA – the allocation of votes amongst nations; the distribution of funds and, general governance and transparency. These are issues for the game and not one sponsors will have much of an interest in.
FIFA’s short term problem is now solved. Sponsors have no reason whatsoever to wag their finger at FIFA or indeed tear up their sponsorship contract. Last week, I said such an action would be madness. After the events overnight, any such action would be utter lunacy. If FIFA was a share market listed entity, its price would have sky-rocketed today as the market reacted. While its not a listed entity and there’s no share price, one thing did skyrocket today – the value of a sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup.
Reuters article mentioned above:
- UK: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/06/03/uk-soccer-fifa-blatter-analysis-idUKKBN0OJ03X20150603
- USA: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/02/us-soccer-fifa-sponsors-idUSKBN0OI2NT20150602
Thursday, 28 May 2015 piece: http://andrewwoodward.tumblr.com/post/120051701348/pr-folks-having-a-bad-day-when-questions-about-the