After days of determinedly refusing to step down, Sepp Blatter resigned from his position as president of soccer’s world governing body on June 2.
Many hailed his departure as the beginning of FIFA’s long road to reform, a new era for world soccer.
But does Blatter’s resignation really mean anything as long as the bigger problems with FIFA go unaddressed? What about the corporations that, for decades, enabled unchecked corruption within the association through billions of dollars?
Following the arrests of top officials on charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering, mounting pressure forced FIFA’s eight official partners – Visa, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Gazprom, Hyundai, Kia, Budweiser and McDonald’s – to shun the organization in the press.
However, not one of them actually pulled their money – despite threatening to do so. Why?
The simplest explanation is, of course, money – lots and lots and lots of it.
As the Guardian’s Jana Kasperkevic noted, “The sponsors might need FIFA more than FIFA needs them.”
“The World Cup provides its sponsors with a significant amount of airtime in front of massive international audience that is not always easily reached,” Kasperkevic write. “Yet the influence of soccer extends far beyond TV and marketing.”
Kasperkevic's pointed out the ban on beer in Brazil, which “was supposed to help reduce violence and possible deaths,” was lifted after FIFA actively campaigned against it.
To put things into perspective, Robert Tuchman of Forbes explains:
“In the four years leading up to the wildly successful 2014 World Cup in Brazil, FIFA pulled in a massive $5.72 billion in sponsorship deals and media rights. Part of that is TV deals, but a large portion came (and continues to come) from marketing and sponsorships in all its various forms.”
In 2014 alone, official marketing sponsors spent $190 million, while a second tier of World Cup-specific sponsors paid $171 million. “Add in several more hundreds of millions of dollars for television ads and it is easy to see why FIFA is one of the most profitable sports governing bodies in the world,” wrote Tuchmann.
Explaining why sponsors do this, Joe Favorito, a sports media consultant and former head of PR for the New York Knicks, told Time:
“Everybody these days wants immediate results and immediate reactions,” he said. “Most brands will take their time, especially since most of them have very positive and lucrative experiences with the NFL, and then will act accordingly.”
Favorito further cited the examples of FedEx, which didn’t pull its sponsorship of the Redskins despite the controversy over their offensive name, and Under Armor, which continued sponsoring the Ravens despite Ray Rice’s domestic abuse scandal.
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Investigations are underway and Blatter will remain in the spotlight as he continues his duties until a new president is elected in late 2015 or early 2016.
This would probably overshadow the entire sponsorship debate but it just shouldn't if a substantial change is needed. And it is, of course, needed.