Football: Blatter resignation a relief for Fifa World Cup sponsors

Top football sponsors Coca-Cola Co, Visa Inc, Adidas AG and Anheuser-Busch InBev SA has called Fifa president Sepp Blatter's decision to resign amid corruption allegations at soccer's governing body as a positive step. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Top football sponsors Coca-Cola Co, Visa Inc, Adidas AG and Anheuser-Busch InBev SA has called Fifa president Sepp Blatter's decision to resign amid corruption allegations at soccer's governing body as a positive step. -- PHOTO: AFP 

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Fifa president Sepp Blatter's decision to resign amid corruption allegations at soccer's governing body is a relief for corporate sponsors who have called for more transparency at the organization, sports marketing experts said on Tuesday.

Blatter, 79, announced the decision at a hastily arranged news conference in Zurich, six days after police raided a hotel in the city and arrested several Fifa officials, and just four days after he was re-elected to a fifth term as president.

Sponsors Coca-Cola Co, Visa Inc, Adidas AG and Anheuser-Busch InBev SA called the move a positive step, but some sponsors said they expected Fifa to do more to clean up its act. "This is a significant first step towards rebuilding public trust, but more work lies ahead," Visa said in a statement.

Branding experts said the news eases concerns of sponsors, who have been in a tough spot: On one hand, they have signed long-term agreements with Fifa, and the World Cup presents a lucrative opportunity. But the recent corruption investigation could taint their brands and reputation with consumers.

However, the news does make it easier for companies to stick with their sponsorships. "They're not going to be as stressed because I think one of the major linchpins and major challenges was Sepp Blatter himself," said Miro Copic, a professor of marketing at San Diego State University and chief executive of the consulting firm BottomLine Marketing. "There are marketing teams out there who are just breathing a sigh of relief." But the resignation could also be a precursor to more sponsor demands. "I think the sponsors are going to do a lot more," said James Gregory, chairman at Tenet Partners, a brand strategy and consulting firm in New York. "They are going to have to make sure this doesn't happen again." Others said the resignation doesn't necessarily signal broader change. ""There will be a new leader, which is positive, but it is very difficult for one person to change the culture of an organization," said Susan Liautaud, a lecturer in public policy at Stanford University.

Still, Blatter stepping down removes one major obstacle, experts said. "Problem solved," said Andrew Woodward, who was director of public relations for Visa until 2011. "This was the major hurdle and changes everything."