Quitting FIFA Just Got Easier With UEFA's Nations League

UEFA, take a bow. You have just completed one of the cleverest moves of combining a sport need with a marketing opportunity I've ever seen. As Sony and Emirates ditch UEFA to get away from the stink of corruption, and Coca-Cola publicly registers its disquiet, you've only gone and pulled off a double. 

The funny thing is I have just been chatting to a very high-ranking marketer at a carmaker that is a household name, and he was mentioning how they are deepening their relationship with UEFA because it's a trustworthy name. In other words, the stink of corruption from FIFA has not been passed on to football's governing body in Europe. I can't imagine this is a lone view, so UEFA deserves a medal for showing that it can turn plans to make football more interesting into a whole new set of marketable sports rights.

The Nations League will kick off in the Autumn of 2018 and will be held every two years at the time right in between two main European Championships. All UEFA countries will be invited to participate with the top four, winning an automatic place in the next European Championship. In footballing terms, it breaks up the endless friendly games that clog up the sporting calendar between competitions and give spectators something to watch that actually means something, rather than an opportunity for managers to try half a dozen substitutions and write off poor results to "blooding" new players.

In marketing terms, this could be gold dust. Okay, so it's not going to be as big as Euro 2016 in France or Euro 2020, spread across Europe. However, it will undoubtedly be popular with fans, brands and broadcasters because it gives an edge to more games. Fewer friendlies and more competitive games has to be a good thing, and brands will be keen to capitalise on the renewed interest in games that might otherwise have only attracted, at best, minor interest in their home markets.

The timing couldn't be better, of course. As mentioned, two huge brand names have ditched FIFA and Coca-Cola is clearly unhappy, so what better excuse than to shift budget to UEFA? If a brand is already involved with UEFA, the Nations League could act as an extension. If the brand isn't, it could be a great way to get a step on the ladder that could ultimately lead to a bigger, wider sponsorship deal further down the line.

In short, if brands focussed on Europe are looking to get out of FIFA and save tens or hundred of millions of pounds at the same time, they now have a way to do this -- and remain within football at the highest level in Europe. If they don't want to make a fuss, they can simply switch their spend and say it's a tactic to concentrate on Europe and save budget for other projects. 

If I were at UEFA I'd be pretty concerned right now. To lose one or two sponsors is possibly manageable, although to lose one or two right from the very top of your "partners" pyramid is probably harder to write off as bad luck. If Sony and Emirates were to be joined by another major name -- dare I mention Coca-Cola again -- then alarm bells, which should already be ringing, would reach an unbearable intensity. 

The stench of corruption is too strong for many brands and UEFA is more than happy to offer a safe harbour.

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