Despite its status as the most popular sporting event on the planet, scandal and controversy have blemished the image of the World Cup, which kicks off today—and sponsorships and brand support for the 2018 event have not been easy to come by.

Much of the reputational trouble concerns FIFA itself, the global association that organizes and oversees the competition. FIFA has been in hot water for years now, thanks to an international corruption and fraud scandal that saw 14 people indicted by the FBI in 2015. And then there was the chaotic political scene during the last World Cup, which led some to call Brazil’s handling of its responsibilities a poorly executed publicity stunt.

Of course, none of that will stop fans from watching the games and participating in the festivities

But it does give brands and sponsors pause. Add to that all the international controversy surrounding this year’s host country—its electioneering issues in the U.S. aside, Russia and its newly re-elected leader Vladimir Putin are just not that popular in the Western world these days. And even in the sporting world, Russia is still battling the black eye it received during the Winter Olympics in a large-scale doping scandal.

FIFA has been struggling to set up commercial partnerships since the 2018 location was announced

Some of the organization’s most loyal sponsors, such as Continental and Johnson & Johnson, have since backed out. Others, such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Visa, made vocal demands that FIFA clean up its act or they would also drop out. This has been a tough battle for the organization since, even though the host nation handles infrastructural and field-maintenance expenses, the more than $2 billion in operational costs for FIFA are typically collected via branding, sponsorship and broadcasting deals.

“It would take a very brave chief marketing officer to say let’s take FIFA and the World Cup“

That’s according to former International Olympic Committee marketing head Michael Payne, who told the Financial Times this last year during sponsorship planning. “No question that in the latter era of the [former president Sepp] Blatter period, the FIFA brand became toxic.”

But like we said, nothing will keep rabid soccer fans worldwide from being glued to their TV sets during the month of competition. Budweiser and Coca-Cola are among the influential sponsors that have huge campaigns planned, and many are hoping that Russia will step up and take advantage of an opportunity to turn its reputation around, in the sporting world and otherwise.

One thing’s for sure: 32 teams from around the globe are ready to give it their all. Let’s hope for an action-packed—and scandal-free—event this year!

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Bulldog Reporter is a leader in media intelligence supplying news, analysis and high-level training content to public relations and corporate communications professionals with the mission of helping these practitioners achieve superior competitive performance.


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