World Cup brands eye winning results

By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News

Image caption,
Sponsors such as Hyundai are looking to maximise their World Cup association

As the World Cup kicks off, the eyes of fans will be on the top-playing footballing elevens on the pitch, the likes of Brazil and Spain, in their quest for glory.

However, off the pitch a six-strong line-up - namely the half-a-dozen major global brands who are Fifa's top commercial partners - will also be hoping to grab some good results.

For football's governing body Fifa it is already a winning situation on the sponsorship front, where revenues are estimated to be up by 80% on the 2006 tournament in Germany.

That estimated $1bn (£700m) in sponsorship revenues should more than make up for the drop in corporate hospitality sales at the South Africa World Cup.


This year's event, the first ever in Africa, has seen the previous top 15 sponsors trimmed down to six premier commercial Fifa "partners", with a second tier of eight "sponsors", and a third rung of five local firms.

"After the 2006 World Cup, there was criticism of the structure, with 15 main sponsors all jostling for position to put themselves ahead of the other 14," says Nigel Currie, director of sports sponsorship and marketing agency Brand Rapport.

"Since then, Fifa has identified the six main sponsorship categories it wanted to push, as it created a limited number of elite partners."

Mr Currie says that, on average, each of the top partners now pays £75m to be associated with one World Cup tournament.

"I think Fifa have taken their sponsorship on to a whole new level, with something closer to the Champions League model of a small number of sponsors," says Mr Currie.

"Fifa realised their top six categories were so competitive that they could greatly increase the money they were asking for.

"In the top tier there was a natural rival in each category, for example Coke and Pepsi, Adidas and Nike, and Visa and Mastercard."

New names

Underneath these six firms are the second tier of firms, called "sponsors" as opposed to "partners", paying about £20m per tournament.

Mr Currie says the biggest development in Fifa's World Cup sponsorship, apart from the compression of the top partners list to just six names, has been the emergence of four relatively unknown names in the second tier.

They are Seara from Brazil - one of the largest food companies in the world, Indian IT consultants Mahindra Satyam, Chinese solar energy firm Yingli, and South African mobile phone service provider MTN.

"These are completely new names from outside the usual axis and Europe, the US, and Japan and Korea," Mr Currie points out.

"It shows the World Cup is reaching more and more commercial territories.

"It normally would have been easy to take a guess at the names of the companies backing a World Cup, but not this time."

He said the development could signal a rise of new firms into the top ranks of global sports sponsorship.


However, it hasn't all been plain sailing on the sponsor front since 2006.

From 1990 to 2006, Mastercard had been the World Cup credit card sponsor and believed it had first option to extend the deal to cover 2010 and 2014.

It took a number of court appearances and Fifa had to pay Mastercard $90m to settle the wrangle, which finally saw Visa installed as a top partner.

And last week the World Cancer Research Foundation called the continuing deals with "unhealthy" sponsors Coca Cola, McDonald's and Budweiser as an "own goal" for Fifa.

However, Mr Currie says that by moving Coca Cola - a sponsor since 1986 - and McDonald's - a sponsor since 1994 - into the second sponsor tier, Fifa may be trying to minimise future criticism from pressure groups.

Local partners

Meanwhile, for the biggest major sporting event in Africa, one which dwarves the 1995 rugby union World Cup in South Africa, there is also a tier of five national suppliers.

These are not Fifa sponsorships but local partnerships with the event, with the quintet paying £100m in total to support the World Cup.

In addition, each of the 32 competing teams will have a number of commercial contracts in place, not to mention the number of unofficial or "ambush" marketing campaigns.

"The World Cup is the event that gets to 200-plus countries around the world, and an estimated 26 billion accumulative audience - there is nothing like it," says Mr Currie.

"It takes the world's number one sport, and adds the passion and excitement associated with a World Cup.

"It grabs the global interest, even among people who do not usually follow football. All that is ideal for sponsors."

'Worldwide exposure'

He says other global events such as Formula 1 motor racing or even the Olympics do not offer the same opportunities to sponsors.

"There are not many global events of this size. It is not just about putting up a billboard, it is about creating worldwide exposure.

"I think that the key thing is that these sorts of companies that are partnering Fifa have all learned how to use major global events to grow business.

"Every can or bottle of Coca Cola has the logo on it. For Coca-Cola it is a chance to say 'we are the number one brand and we are backing the number one event'.

"Visa has sophisticated promotional campaigns around the World Cup."

And he says that while some of the firms were more business-to-business focused and not necessarily looking to win billions of new customers, for the main six sponsors it was a chance to confirm their global footprint while also activating programmes in local markets.

"They are in the spotlight of this major event, having their name and logo recognised around the world, even by people who do do not speak your language," he says.

"If you are a company that has to be in every country in the world, or aspires to be, then there is no greater vehicle than the World Cup."

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