Did NAFTA Just Save FIFA And The World Cup?

There could be no other outcome, when you think about it. FIFA may not appear to the outside world to be on its knees as Russia 2018 gets underway -- but trust me, the writing could have been on the wall.

But then as the saviour marches over the horizon and the decision was taken last week to give the USA, Canada and Mexico the 2026 World Cup. Apparently Blatter has previously revealed that in addition to pre-agreeing that Russia would get 2018, even before the vote was held, the US was supposed to get the 2022 competition. However "support" grew unexpectedly fast for Qatar, and by "support" I think we all know he means a huge amassing of money, and possibly bribes.

With Russia already agreed to be hosting 2018 competition before the vote was even held, and Qatar now widely acknowledged to have bought the 2022 competition from under the noses of the English FA and an expectant USA, this meant 2026 had to be handled properly. 

If you think concerns over 2018 and Russia and alarming, just wait until we get to Qatar. With Russia we have a despot invading the Crimea and getting way too involved in Ukraine, not to mention poisoning former spies on English soil plus supposedly attempting to influence UK and US elections. Then there is the pro-Putin biker gangs and football hooligans who attacked English fans in France and a general warning to the LGBT community  that they might be singled out for rough treatment in Russia. It seems to have gone rather quiet on Russian forces, or at least their equipment, shooting down a passenger jet over the Ukraine too, hasn't it?

With Qatar we have a country that nobody in the outside world realised had an interest in football and is the subject of sanctions from many of its neighbouring countries. It is illegal to be gay there and there has been uproar over the awful treatment of mostly Asian workers who are getting the required stadia built. 

It is hardly the stuff of branding legend, is it? The writing was clearly on the wall when Sony and Emirates both famously ditched their long-term commitments to sponsoring FIFA. They both knew FIFA was rotten, and there was a very strong whiff or corruption about how 2018 and 2022 were handed out. 

Adidas stayed with the programme. However, its World Cup ad features no reference to FIFA and Russia and 2018. It has been using these kinds of logos, which show you are officially partnered with the tournament, that brands pay the big bucks for -- rumoured to be around GBP180m for an eight-year deal. Its ad also has the ignominy of being outperformed -- in terms of YouTube views -- more than seven times over by arch rival Nike, which is not an official sponsor. 

This is why the joint bid for USA, Canada and Mexico is so important. FIFA clearly had a promise to make up for and so had to deliver 2022's offer in 2026. However, the big news has very little to do with football. 

Advertisers will spend the mega bucks required to be associated with a World Cup in the USA and including Canada and Mexico just sweetens the deal with making it essentially the NAFTA World Cup. Brands want exposure in this trade area, and FIFA has served it up to them on a plate. 

One can never know which of the remaining sponsors were wavering, but you can absolutely guarantee that anyone on the fence and considering leaving the fold will want to be involved with a NAFTA World Cup. 

FIFA has been on the brink. The corrupt organisation is widely accused of having allowed the current and next event to be bought by countries with highly questionable human rights records. It needed a 2026 that would put it back where advertisers want to be seen and the game of "soccer" is widely loved. 

I think we will come back to look upon the 2026 World Cup as the decision that saved FIFA, both morally and financially, from the travails of the current decade. 

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