Fifa ‘toxic’ brand to cost it 25% of World Cup sponsor target, expert says

Marketing has become political, founder of governing body’s sponsorship strategy says

Former Fifa president Sepp Blatter is showered with fake banknotes at a press conference in 2015. Photograph: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Former Fifa president Sepp Blatter is showered with fake banknotes at a press conference in 2015. Photograph: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

 

Fifa will fall short of its sponsorship target for next summer’s World Cup in Russia by more than a quarter due to the “toxic” nature of its brand, according to the founder of its sponsorship strategy.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Patrick Nally, who created the blueprint for sponsorship at Fifa, generating billions for football’s world governing body, said the organisation was struggling to sign sponsors following recent scandals.

“When I started this programme after first introducing Fifa to Coca-Cola back in the Seventies, we were promoting the greatest tournament in the world and aiming to get the world’s greatest sponsors,” he said.

“For many many World Cups we had great brand names and great sponsors to match the great event taking place. What has happened over recent years, as the Fifa brand has got toxic, brands have either been withdrawing or not racing to join.”

Mr Nally said “key partners” had been lost, while the brands that have replaced them “tend to be political”.

“I’m talking about Gazprom being Russian. Qatar Airways ahead of the 2022 World Cup that’s under question, and Wanda, a Chinese conglomerate that owns the sports marketing company run by [former Fifa president Sepp] Blatter’s nephew because China wants to get the World Cup.

“Things are getting more political, which means that in future it will be less attractive to partners who don’t want to be associated with political approaches. They want to be associated with other quality brands.”

Three tiers

Fifa’s sponsorship strategy for the World Cup has three tiers: partners, sponsors and regional sponsors.

“They’re down at least one partner, which is unusual, because they would normally have many knocking down the door,” said Mr Nally.

“On sponsors, the next tier down, they currently have four when their own target was 11. A few Chinese have joined that bandwagon but not many others.

“Then when it comes to regional supporters, where they were anticipating 18 they currently only have one. Their target was to raise about $180 million from the regional sponsors at $10 million each.

“They will get more but at some point they will have to start discounting, but discounting is very bad because it has a negative effect on everybody else who has paid substantial money to be involved.

“Their total target from all three tiers would have been about $140 billion. I reckon they’ll probably still get about $100 billion. But things will get worse before they get better.”

On the toxicity of the Fifa brand, Mr Nally cited the example of his own association with Blatter.

“The moment I mention socially that I employed Blatter from Longines to run the Fifa Coca-Cola development programme, which we had created – in a very innocent way, because he had the right criteria – it’s almost as though I am blackened in the room.

“Even mentioning that I know him and was associated with him elicits an extraordinary negative reaction. It’s a tragedy that on the one hand you’ve got this wonderful event, with all its excitement, and now it’s tarnished because of the name of Fifa.”

Need for change

Mr Nally said next summer’s tournament would be the first to have reduced sponsorship than its predecessor. “There needs to be a change,” he said. “It’s clearly going downwards and they’re certainly not going to get anywhere near their targets for Russia.

“It will probably be the first World Cup which has got less rather than more. If it continues like this it will be a spiralling downward decline, which is not helpful for anyone.

“Russia will cope because it still has good revenues coming in. But it’s clear for the first time ever that things are on the decline. It’s not terminal but, without change, it’s the beginning of the end.”

In response to queries on sponsorship, a spokesman for Fifa said: “We still have a few spots to fill and the sales process is ongoing.”