City & Gild: Has the World Cup Lost its Bite?

Andrew Mulholland
Follow Andrew

For some, football is more than a game; it’s a matter of life and death. But for me – the Suarez incident aside – the World Cup has lost its bite. As my mind wanders to Wimbledon and the hope Murray doesn’t let me down as badly as the England team, I struggle to see how brands justify the outlay to become an official sponsor.

To afford the hallowed turf of being a Fifa partner you need deep pockets, and only the very large and/or brave can afford that. It also means the equity drives mainly to the masterbrand – leaving the sub-brands struggling for airtime. Take Sony for example. The Fifa restrictions, and its own brand architecture, mean its sub-brands (Xperia, PlayStation etc) have to sit by with their fingers crossed, and hope the fans make the connection. Yet research shows this isn’t happening – even at the masterbrand level. According to GlobalWebIndex, nearly 40 per cent of consumers wrongly believe Mastercard, Nike and Pepsi are World Cup sponsors. This must hurt Visa, Adidas and Coke more than Chiellini’s shoulder.

As an extra kick in the teeth (sorry, couldn’t resist that), if your national team doesn’t perform, you had better have creative that doesn’t rely on its success, or a strong plan B. Speaking as an Englishman, it would appear we have neither. It’s not enough to crash out of the tournament with a whimper, we have to endure the sight of ads showing Gerrard scoring with an overhead kick, Joe Hart promising not to lose his head and buses telling us it’s All in or Nothing. And I for one would prefer the latter.

Then there’s the issue of being seen tied to Fifa itself, whose antics make a dive in the penalty box look like a minor misdemeanour. I particularly liked the story in The Sunday Times, which revealed its executive committee agreed to the new ethics rules banning their six-figure World Cup bonuses, while secretly doubling their pay.
So where does this leave us? The Fifa World Cup is still one the largest sporting events in the world, but if I was a brand manager, I would be tempted to eschew the prawn sandwiches of the sponsors tent, in favour of a more nimble approach, one which didn’t rely on global messaging, rather the flex of ambush marketing at a national level and the power of social media. In summary, an approach I could really sink my teeth into!

Andrew Mulholland is the managing director of strategic branding consultancy The Gild,