FIFA Scandal: Experts Discuss Fallout, Strategies for Sponsors
Already in the U.K., soccer's homeland, perceptions of the 2018 World Cup have suffered in the wake of criminal investigations against FIFA.
FIFA sponsors such as Visa, Adidas, Coca Cola and Budweiser, appear to have avoided major fallout from the world soccer body’s bribery scandal.
More than a week after the arrest of high-level FIFA executives at a Zurich hotel, American and British consumer perception of its sponsors has remained little changed, according to daily brand consumer perception research service YouGov BrandIndex.
Perception data of the sponsors as of Friday showed only small moves among U.S. and U.K. consumers. U.S. consumer perception movement has “really been small” for sponsors, says YouGov BrandIndex CEO Ted Marzilli. “Adidas seems to have taken the relatively largest downturn since the scandal broke, but it's still on the small side. They've been at lower levels in the past.”
The company asks the question: ”If you've heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?"
The 2018 World Cup, set to be held in Russia, has suffered in perception in the U.K. though, unlike in the U.S., consumer perception of the 2018 tournament “has plummeted to its worst levels since November 2014 when Qatar was cleared to host the 2022 World Cup after FIFA’s ethics committee announced no rules were breached,” according to Marzilli.
“U.S. consumers probably see the World Cup as a seasonal event, and FIFA is not as close to them as an organization as, let's say, the NFL or MLB,” he tells THR. “The U.K., on the other hand, is the "motherland" of soccer, the originators, so their relationship with the governing body is very close. That is why you see such an extreme reaction. This cuts close to the European population.”
Mary O’Connor, senior vp, sports consulting at The Marketing Arm, an Omnicom agency, said sponsors should see the FIFA scandal as an opportunity. “While a crisis is never a good thing, it provides sponsors with an opportunity to take the lead in driving change for good. And let’s face it, FIFA is in a full blown crisis right now,” she says.
“Sponsors must make sure to align themselves with properties that create a positive connection in the mind of the consumer. That’s where the value of sponsorship lies,” she tells THR. “And while [soccer] remains the most watched game in the world, if change doesn’t keep coming quickly, the negative impact of a connection to FIFA may not be worth the access to hundreds of millions of fans. But this decision needs to be a thoughtful one, not one that is purely reactionary.”
What can/should sponsors do? “In crises of this magnitude, people want to see immediate, significant change at the top. That’s now happened” with Sepp Blatter’s resignation as FIFA president. But O’Connor said that’s only the first step.
“The next step – sponsors need to continue fighting for positive change, and they have to pay close attention to the needs and desires of the fans,” she says. “Playing an active role in preserving or restoring the integrity of FIFA can have a positive effect on a sponsor’s brand.”
Since “actions are more powerful — and more credible” than words, she suggests: “Sponsors should call for an independent audit of business practices — and in the spirit of transparency and accountability — make the findings of that audit public.”
Explains O’Connor: “Sponsors can offer FIFA their expertise in developing effective processes and procedures to help ensure a crisis like this never happens again. Press for the formation of a true FIFA "ethics and accountability" committee consisting of corporate and non-profit executives from around the world who will oversee the creation and application of a code of conduct. Further, press for a respected independent expert who can lead the committee on a permanent basis.”
She cites a past sports scandal as a possible blueprint for changing sentiment. “We saw this in 1998 in our own backyard with the 2002 Olympic Winter Games bid scandal,” says O’Connor. “Several International Olympic Committee members were expelled, and legal charges were brought against the leaders of Salt Lake’s bid. In the end, Salt Lake delivered an amazing Games, and the scandal led to the adoption of new IOC rules designed to prevent anything similar from happening in the future.”
Says O’Connor: “The Olympic movement recovered, and if handled correctly, FIFA and the global soccer movement will also recover.”