Despite Scandals, World Cup Remains Marketers' Draw

It’s here! The world’s biggest global sports spectacle, the FIFA World Cup 2018, hosted by Russia, runs from June 14 and will end on July 15.

According to Zenith Media, the FIFA World Cup is expected to generate $2.4 billion in advertising revenue worldwide, and about 3.5 billion people across 220 countries will watch.

It’s a somewhat tarnished event, of course. First of all: It’s in Russia, and the process by which the country won that honor was tied in with now-proven voting irregularities that ultimately cost then FIFA boss Sepp Blatter his job, and countless regional association leaders their freedom as they are either being prosecuted or are in jail.

Secondly, The Netherlands did not qualify. And that will mean lower ratings, of course… in The Netherlands. Oh, wait, I’m the only one who cares about that.
Then again, team USA did not qualify either, and Fox, who paid millions for the broadcasting rights, is putting a brave face on that disappointment in TV promos with the tag line “The World Becomes The World Cup." That’s so, in the absence of “USA, USA, USA”, most fans in the U.S. will pick a team they feel connected with based on their historic roots or football preference. We are talking of course Italians, Chileans, South Africans, Chinese, Irish, Norwegians — oh, wait, none of those countries qualified for the event either.



Luckily many other countries did, including football royalty like Brazil, Spain and Germany, and surprises like Iceland and Panama. And to be honest, the Fox strategy will probably work — at least partially. During prior World Cups, U.S. team matches delivered fantastic ratings, but so did most other key games, even after the U.S. played its last match in the tournament.

Many have wondered, however, if the event is “damaged goods” for marketers — and if it’s even possible to generate a positive ROI from the scandal-riddled World Cup. The answer is “a little” to the first question, and “absolutely, if you work on it” to the second.

It’s no doubt true that FIFA’s brand name has an enormous smudge on it, which won’t be going away anytime soon. However: While the global football-loving population positively hate FIFA, they love football and the World Cup. The event matters here in the U.S. and virtually everywhere else in the world. This means that it also matters as a great marketing opportunity, because tapping into a collectively celebrated passion offers a great platform.

But what absolutely, positively does NOT matter is sponsor recognition. MediaPost’s U.K.-based Sean Hargrave wrote an article where he rightly states that official sponsors and non-sponsors often share equally in World Cup sponsor recognition (think Coke vs Pepsi, Powerade vs Gatorade, Nike vs Adidas, etc.). Also, this recognition is often appallingly low.

To which I say: Who cares? As a sponsor or non-sponsor activating World Cup through marketing, what you should care about is how your activation is doing versus the budget spent. If that budget includes acquisition cost for the official rights, you must include that cost into your ROI calculation. And if you are not an official sponsor but have contracted with global football stars like Ronaldo or Messi, you need to figure in those costs as well.

Sales, brand lift, brand reputation, or whatever other relevant marketing metric should be what you measure your cost against. Sponsor recognition is meaningless.

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