Corruption charges put sponsors of Women’s World Cup in tight spot: expert

By Ian Bickis, The Canadian Press

CALGARY – Corruption allegations against senior FIFA officials have put sponsors of the upcoming Women’s World Cup in Canada in a tight spot, says a sports marketing expert.

With less than two weeks to go until the tournament starts, national sponsors including Bell Canada, Labatt Breweries of Canada and Trend Micro have little choice but to go on with the show, says Vijay Setlur, an adjunct sport marketing professor at York University in Toronto.

“Those deals are already in place, the money has already changed hands so to speak,” Setlur said Wednesday.

“So if anything, brands are probably trying to figure out how they can ensure these associations with corruption don’t tarnish their own brand.”

Setlur says that this close to the women’s World Cup, which starts June 6 in Edmonton, brands will have to try to keep the message about soccer, not FIFA.

“At this stage it’s more about emphasizing their own values as a brand, what soccer means to them, but also what soccer means to the communities that it serves,” he said. “About teamwork and camaraderie, and fair play, and health and fitness and all those more positive associations.”

Federal Sports Minister Bal Gosal tried to downplay any repercussions, saying the allegations won’t tarnish the upcoming tournament.

All three of the tournament’s national sponsors did not return interview requests.

But Bell’s vice-president of corporate marketing sent a statement saying the company supports the competition and its fans, adding that its sponsorship relationship is specific to the Canadian tournament.

“We encourage FIFA to continue to establish and follow transparent compliance standards in everything they do,” Loring Phinney said.

International brands with more long-term contracts with FIFA have also responded to the scandal.

“This lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup and we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations,” Coca-Cola said in a statement. “We expect FIFA to continue to address these issues thoroughly.”

McDonald’s also weighed in on the affair.

“McDonald’s takes matters of ethics and corruption very seriously and the news from the U.S. Department of Justice is extremely concerning,” it said, adding that it is in contact with FIFA.

Setlur said that Sony Corp. and Emirates didn’t renew their partnership agreements with FIFA after being critical of corruption at the organization, but for many brands the benefits of sponsorship are hard to give up.

“FIFA is arguably the most powerful sports organization in the world, with a global audience that for these brands is like a pot of gold,” says Setlur.

“So for them to just quickly disassociate themselves from a property as powerful as FIFA and the benefits it could bring to generating revenue and sales, they have to think long and hard. It’s not an easy decision.”

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