Sponsor Walks, or Sponsor Pushed?

13 July 2017 Comments 0

It was interesting to read that long-time FIFA sponsor, McDonald’s, is thinking about walking away from its sponsorship of the World Cup that is roughly thought to be valued at $300-$400 million every four years. It comes on top of McDonald’s ending their 41-year relationship with the Olympic Movement recently also.

The official statement from McDonald’s was carefully crafted in corporate-speak – for example, they’ll “continue to hold FIFA accountable to meaningful reform” – but the fact that the story is in the public domain is significant.

A key component of the advocacy work of #NewFIFANow since its beginning more than 2 ½ years ago has been lobbying FIFA sponsors to be aware of who it is they’re sponsoring and the conduct they’re implicitly condoning by doing so.

As a challenger sports brand also, SKINS works to ensure that the sponsorship decisions we make are in line with our brand and personal values.

In FIFA’s case, it is their now-proven lack of business integrity in their decision-making, as well as supporting decisions that put their marquee tournaments in countries that have highly controversial human rights policies, and draconian attitudes to many things many of us take for granted. While the people at the head of FIFA have changed, they have yet to prove that the ‘FIFA Way’ is any different; there has certainly been no pulling-back of the decision taken by 22 men in December 2010, despite the fact that more than half of them are charged, indicted or under investigation.

Not surprisingly, many seek to characterise this as a ‘west’ versus ‘east’ approach.

In other words, the so-called soft liberal ‘western hemisphere’ – which tends to make a stand against homophobia, racism, gender gaps and so forth – are trying to impose their values on a different culture. If I’m guilty of that, it’s not because of any cultural superiority or old-fashioned cultural imperialism, but just about treating all people equally and well in society, regardless of ethnicity, culture, language, gender and so forth.

I was also fascinated to see this tweet in response to an article in Forbes.com about this issue. It is a tweet from Michael Payne: as his bio indicates, he was the IOC’s first Marketing Director and an ultimate insider.

It gives a fascinating insight as to how the IOC – and perhaps also FIFA – is spinning the loss of a major, long-time sponsor.

Blame the sponsor! But of course!

According to Payne’s tweet, it’s not that McDonald’s is making an integrity-based business assessment in response to demand from their customers, but that the sporting bodies are pushing them out the door because of the demands they make and the public health issues associated with McDonald’s brand.

If that’s the case, it will be interesting to see who takes their place at both the IOC and FIFA.

Quite frankly, I can’t see Thomas Bach or Gianni Infantino pushing any company out the door in a hurry – especially because of an apparent interest in public health – when they’ve got good, hard cash to contribute and a first-class global marketing reach to leverage.

On the other hand, if the FIFA indictments continue – as many expect – to strike deep into personalities who have long been prominent in Zurich, there may be further pressure on US sponsors to consider their position. And if Gianni Infantino continues to disappoint with his predilection for private aircraft, and vanity projects, rather than real reform, another potential pressure point builds.

As it stands now, both FIFA and the IOC are still reliant on the funding support of US companies as these two charts show.

US headquartered companies are more than one-third of FIFA’s top tier partners and sponsors, and almost half of IOC top tier partners and sponsors.

So ask yourself: are McDonald’s walking, or are they being pushed?