Sponsors not eager to play ball as World Cup draws near

WASHINGTON • With 16 months to go before the next staging of football's flagship event, corporate sponsors are not in a rush to have their names attached to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Tournament organiser Fifa has signed just one new top-tier level partner, China's Wanda Group, since the last tournament in Brazil.

Only Moscow-headquartered Alfa Bank has agreed to be a regional World Cup supporter, which has replaced national supporter as the cheapest level of sponsorship.

By the same stage in the tournament cycle for Brazil in 2014, almost all the agreements were concluded, with the majority confirmed more than three years before the event kicked off.

Reasons behind companies' reluctance to sign may include the US$150 million (S$212.86 million) cost of the most expensive deal and the fallout from Fifa's 2015 corruption scandal, according to Andrew Georgiou, chief executive officer of Lagardere Sports and Entertainment, one of the world's largest sports agencies.

DILUTED QUALITY

The value's gone down. I have had the same conversation about the value going down in Asia, same in Africa.

'' ANDREW GEORGIOU, chief of sports agency Lagardere, on the declining worth of an expanded World Cup.

"I think compliance issues are affecting brands and I think the price points are affecting brands," he said at his company's headquarters in London.

"Has Fifa got itself back to a place where corporate Western brands are comfortable doing business?"

An internal investigation into wrongdoing at the 112-year-old body has been completed by Washington law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, which will provide its report to Fifa next month.

That will be three months before Russia hosts the Confederations Cup, an eight-nation tune-up that takes place a year before the main event.

Fifa, which sells three categories of sponsorship, has just nine companies on its roster for the tournament.

That compares with 20 by the time the Brazil World Cup kicked off, including two local companies in the global World Cup sponsorship category, the second most-valuable segment.

"The sales process is ongoing and new commercial affiliates will join the marketing programme before the Fifa World Cup," Fifa said in an e-mailed statement, without providing further details.

Further trouble is around the corner, Georgiou added.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino convinced members to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams for the 2026 tournament and beyond.

The expansion risks diluting the quality of the competition, and makes the usually two-year-long regional qualification programmes devalued for television companies, said Georgiou, whose company buys and manages rights.

"The value's gone down," he said. "I have had the same conversation about the value going down in Asia, same in Africa. The value will go down across the board."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2017, with the headline 'Sponsors not eager to play ball as World Cup draws near'. Print Edition | Subscribe