FIFA crisis as World Cup sponsors miss out

The World Cup in South Africa will generates billions in income for organisers FIFA but the main World Cup sponsors – Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Hyundai, Visa and Sony – will be looking hard at the $40m a year (they pay between tournaments too) the deals cost them.

In the absence of much exciting football this has already become the big story of this year’s World Cup, along with the bee-swarm vuvuzela trumpets of course.

Marketing magazine in the UK commissioned some research from Lighspeed showing pretty clearly that few people’s opinions of the main sponsor brands had moved at all owing to their World Cup sponsorship. Even worse, a lot of people thought that Nike and Visa were official sponsors, which they’re not.

Much of this can be ascribed to so-called ‘ambush’ marketing where the likes of Nike outspend the official sponsor, Adidas, around the World Cup. Its ‘write the future’ ad featuring Wayne Rooney, inter alia, seems to please the public if not necessarily the professionals.

Mars, a second tier sponsor, has already threatened to sue Nestle over its football-themed KitKat ads.

FIFA is doing what it can to protect its sponsors but this chiefly seems to mean sending lawyers’ letters to countless small firm over alleged copyright infringement while the big boys blithely carry on. It’s surely only a matter of time before FIFA’s lawyers object to companies featuring any old football in their logo or on their ads.

The reality seems to be that official sponsors do well if they’re already a megabrand. So Coca-Cola scores best in the Lightspeed numbers despite Pepsi’s best efforts to ambush it (through some pretty naff ads it has to be said).

Hyundai will presumably gain from the association (so long as no more of its ads are shown on ITV when England are scoring a rare goal) as the sponsorship does underline how this funny South Korean manufacturer whose cars have unpronounceable names has become a world brand.

As for the others their fortunes show that sponsorship only pays if you have the creative armoury to support it.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.