World Cup Sponsorship, The Wasted Budget That Can Only Backfire

As we prepare for tomorrow's kickoff for the World Cup in Russia, there are, as usual, a bunch of statistics and research studies doing the rounds. Most look at where people will be watching games (2 in 3 at home, the rest in the pub) and other lighthearted observations such as that two in three think the ads are rubbish and half the country has no faith in the England team.

However, the really interesting question for any marketer isn't just whether the public rate the World Cup ads highly or not, but whether forking out something like GBP180m has been worthwhile. That is the accepted estimate for how much it costs to be a full FIFA partner across two World Cup competitions and so able to reference the competition and use its logo.

This is where GlobalWebIndex's latest piece of research is very useful. After you've ploughed through the fun stats -- such as that 16% of England fans think we can win it (early signs of delusion, surely), you get to the crunch. The public doesn't know who the official sponsors are because arch rivals are very canny at producing great footballing ads without the logo, but still usually with a bunch of stars. 

We covered in yesterday's column how Nike's ad has focussed on Brazil (whose kit it sponsors). It is packed with stars, just like Adidas, yet it has been viewed seven times more than Adidas' and without forking out for a FIFA sponsorship deal. Ironically, Adidas appears to have paid a fortune to be able to reference the FIFA World Cup and Russia, yet appears not to want to. One can only imagine that it fears brand reputation damage of being linked with scandal-hit FIFA and Russia. 

So now to the hard bit, if you've just forked out GBP180m to mention Russia, FIFA and World Cup in your advertising. Put simply, the public doesn't have a clue who is a sponsor and who is not. 

Let's start off with Nike and Adidas, for whom 37% and 38% of the public associate with the World Cup, according to GlobalWebIndex. That's an awful lot of budget for a tiny 1% awareness lift.

It's the same with Mastercard and Visa. The latter official FIFA partner has the indignation of the public thinking its rival is more closely associated with the World Cup -- 30% of the public link it to the event, compared to 33% for Mastercard. 

Budweiser must be relieved that it is associated with the World Cup by 2% more of the public than Carlsberg, but execs may wonder whether that lift is worth the expense. They have plastered all logos and references to the competition across their advertising and just 27% of people think they are a sponsor, compared to 25% who think that honour is held by its Danish arch rival.

Only one sponsoring brand is successfully associated with the competition by more than half of the UK internet public and that's Coca-Cola, at 54%.

So there you have it -- only one company can claim to be successfully associated with the World Cup by more than half of the UK's online population. The rest languish at either a third or a quarter successfully making the link with the brand, but then also making it with their arch rival.

These competitor brands get all the lift from having successful World Cup ads out there, as long as they don't break any rules, yet they have none of the brand image risk if things go wrong and concerns over thugs and attitudes to the LGBT community come to the fore. 

Speaking of human rights, guess where the World Cup is being held next? Qatar. And guess where it's illegal to be gay? That's right -- Qatar. And for which country has Human Rights Watch issued a warning over human rights violations affected Asian workers being brought in to build stadia? You guessed it -- Qatar. 

Roll up sponsors, roll up. After you've handed money to corrupt organisation number one and Ukraine-invading host country number two, join the queue to try to square off your socially liberal inclusive brand image with the country where a sexually active member of the LGBT community can be imprisoned and where Amnesty International has an active warning about abuse of migrant workers' human rights. Stay for the added bonus of sponsoring a tournament in a country that its neighbours have imposed sanctions on for allegedly supporting terror

It's hardly a recommendation to fork out GBP180m, is it?

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