Fresh eyes

Is FIFA a ‘Teflon brand?’

Is FIFA a Teflon brand?

Written by Michael Gregory,
Director at Freshfield

In an age where the majority of brands are paranoid about any potential damage to their reputation, it’s surprising just how willing FIFA’s major sponsors appear to be in sticking by the beleaguered organisation.

FIFA’s current batch of sponsors will surely be debating whether they should exercise the morality clauses in their sponsorship agreements.

These are clauses which will allow sponsors to terminate their agreements if they deem that FIFA’s conduct infringes public morality and has potentially damaged their brand. Already, VISA has said it wants to see major changes otherwise it would consider ending its current agreement which runs to 2022.

But while other top sponsors such as McDonald’s have expressed concerns, it’s likely all of them will wait to see how the organisation seeks to reform itself in the wake of Sepp Blatter’s resignation before taking any action. Is this because football’s global popularity, and the money it generates for sponsors, makes it almost impossible to walk away from an organisation like FIFA?

Even before the recent scandal, FIFA has faced other controversies including the deaths of many migrant labourers building the new stadiums in Qatar. According to Play Fair Qatar, more than 62 workers will have died for every game played during the 2022 tournament.

Prior to this in 2011, FIFA investigated two of its own members in relation to alleged acts of bribery. Again a number of key sponsors sought to distance themselves from the incidents and issued statements that they wanted reassurance from FIFA that this would not happen again – but they didn’t end their deals.

The recent corruption scandal saw all the leading FIFA sponsors except for Gazprom, issuing more statements saying that they want to see complete transparency and that change needs to happen.

It’s hard to see in these modern times how any organisation other than FIFA could ride out such a series of scandals without being affected financially?

The big question is will any of the current sponsors actually end their relationships? Fundamentally, there are more brands ready to take their place, purely because the World Cup is so important in helping them reach global audiences.

It certainly looks like FIFA is a ‘Teflon brand’ – it can do wrong and nothing sticks – but there is a groundswell of opposition against it. Sony and Emirates ended their sponsorship agreements partly due to the negative publicity around the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and Coca-Cola has been in ‘major’ discussions with the football organisation because Coke believed FIFA’s actions were damaging its brand.

However, football is a lucrative business because it is so marketable. It’s the only sport that’s played and watched in such high numbers across the globe and if you want to reach a world-wide market, then the World Cup is the perfect platform to do that.

FIFA and the World Cup are not going to disappear and neither will the queue of brands that will happily pay to be involved.

But the events of the last few weeks show that, even if corporate sponsors are willing to stand by you, no organisation is beyond the reach of the law.

From a PR and communications perspective, it will still be interesting to see how FIFA seeks to rebuild its battered reputation. That’s going to take a huge change in management, culture and governance.

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