Commentary

Why The Soccer World Cup Will Be Extra Hard On Advertisers, Planners

And just like that, summer 2022 is in the rear-view mirror. I don’t know about you, but I had an awesome summer. We saw family, hung out on the beach, made s’mores (for the first time in my life!). In short, it was all a summer should be.

And now we enter the back end of the year. There are four months left in 2022, which can only mean one thing: Let’s get an early start on buying Halloween candy and decorations. And flavor absolutely anything with pumpkin.

And what will compete with all that spooky candy and pumpkin-flavored everything? FIFA’s soccer world cup for men is the answer! That’s right, in a complete break with 92 years of tradition, the FIFA decided to hold the 2022 edition from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18. Why, you ask? Well, in another baffling bit of pandering to money (NOT!), the event was awarded to the tiny oil-rich nation of Qatar, whose hot season runs from May to September, with an average daily temperature above 99°F. The hottest month of the year in Qatar is July, with an average high of 106°F and low of 88°F. That is traditionally also the month when a typical World Cup is played.

To prevent soccer players and stadium spectators from death by sunstroke, the event was moved to November through December. Which means it will compete with your Thanksgiving, your traditional U.S. sports season, and your last-minute Christmas gift shopping.

It is a real challenge for TV planners, not least because Qatar is seven to 10 hours ahead of the East and West Coasts respectively. Meaning that an 8:30 p.m. Qatar time kick-off will be broadcast 1:30 p.m./10:30 a.m. Other games, especially during the busy group stages, will be broadcast even earlier in our time zones.

But if that makes for uncomfortable squirming in seats for advertisers and sponsors, then the bigger issue is the poor human rights record of the host country. There have been countless reports on the plight of the migrant workers recruited to build the World Cup venues. Wikipedia has a useful if not outright upsetting chapter on its World Cup 2022 page, with one header reading “Migrant workers, slavery allegations and deaths.” There are conflicting numbers, but all reports point to significant numbers of deaths as well as serious exploitation of migrant workers. Add to that the fact that you can be prosecuted if you are openly part of the LGBTQ community, and you will understand that for most marketers, this host country poses all manner of problems.

Especially in Europe, there are significant forces at play to use the global stage the World Cup provides for human rights activism. Already, various national football associations have announced they will test the authorities and FIFA with all sorts of protests, ranging from rainbow-colored laces for football boots to pressuring the host nation for payment and compensation to migrant workers, paid from the event revenues. Writes The Mail+: “polling data by Public First, which has been shared with us, shows that 46 per cent of 2,000 respondents thought major businesses should not sponsor the World Cup, with 31 per cent unsure.” That should make for a fun advertising environment for the likes of Coca-Cola, Nike, Budweiser and others!

Luckily, the Qatari rulers have agreed that alcohol can be sold in the stadiums (but not outside), because that is obviously the biggest issue that needed resolving…

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