Visa has become the latest World Cup sponsor to publicly criticise football’s governing body FIFA for its handling of the investigation into alleged corruption over the bidding process that will see Russia holding the 2018 tournament and the 2022 competition being held in Qatar.
Marketing Week reports that Visa — which has a contract with FIFA to sponsor the World Cup until 2022, at an estimated value of £120 million over a four-year tournament-long period, according to sponsorship agency BrandRapport — is calling for more “forthright communications” from FIFA.
Visa released this statement on its corporate Tumblr page:
“We are troubled by the recent events surrounding FIFA. In our discussions we have clearly stated that greater transparency and more open, forthright communications is not only paramount, but the only way in which public trust in FIFA, and all that it represents, will be restored. It is our expectation that FIFA will act accordingly and take swift action to resolve these issues in a manner that is meaningful and visible to all.”
FIFA has an ever-growing crisis on its hands: it needs to hold on to the support of its sponsors as they account for 40% its commercial revenue, according to its latest financial filings. But that support is waning, at least as far as corporate communications are concerned. Visa’s statement comes in the same week Coca-Cola said the handling of FIFA’s botched investigation into the bidding process has been “disappointing.” It adds to the growing negative tenor between sponsors and FIFA — other sponsors including Adidas, Hyundai, Sony and Budweiser have all previously released statements criticising FIFA and the media storm it has created surrounding the World Cup bidding process — and brands are looking to distance themselves from the scandals.
A report in the Wall Street Journal this week suggested that Sony is close to terminating its contract with FIFA altogether, partly due to the controversy surrounding FIFA’s investigation. The contract is up for renewal this year.
Earlier this month Emirates announced it was ending its sponsorship of the World Cup after an eight-year partnership with FIFA, “following an evaluation of FIFA’s contract proposal which did not meet Emirates’ expectations.”
Most people took that to read that Emirates was uneasy about the corruption claims surrounding the bid process for the World Cup, particularly the 2022 tournament held in Qatar. However, the decision may also have been made because the brand is in a far more prominent place than it was back in 2006, and the brand awareness opportunity a World Cup can offer is no longer necessary. Emirates’ contract also came to an end in 2014 anyway.
Sponsors have become increasingly perturbed with FIFA after the governing body released a summary of report on its investigation into the World Cup bidding process, cleaning the winning Qatar and Russia bids of any corruption. Shortly after its publication, the summary was disowned by FIFA’s own ethics chief Michael Garcia, who said the report had been “misrepresented.”
FIFA announced last week it was lodging a criminal complaint with the Swiss attorney general regarding “possible misconduct of individual persons in connection with the awarding of the hosting rights of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.” The Mail on Sunday reports that five officials with connections to FIFA are at the center of the investigation. But FIFA’s ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert said there was not enough evidence to question the entire bidding process.
Awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar has been controversial decision. Qatar said earlier this month it will not be able to keep its promise to hold the 2022 World Cup in the summer — completely disrupting European football seasons and potentially clashing with the Winter Olympics — its original $US200 billion construction proposal has already seen 12 stadiums cut to eight, and the country’s football body is continually fending off accusations of poor workers’ conditions and a mounting death toll, which at the last report stood at around 900.
But despite the growing furore FIFA is facing at the moment, most sponsorship experts that Business Insider has spoken to don’t think a widespread boycott is likely. The World Cup is an unrivalled marketing opportunity in terms of scale and, if a sponsor were to pull out, one of their rivals would be all-too-glad to step in. Statement’s like Visa’s appear to be an attempt at brand damage limitation.
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