Want to know who the top-ranked soccer nations are? For that you'd have to consult the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. American multinationals have long been sponsors of the World Cup, long before the game caught on in the U.S. Coca-Cola, Visa, Budweiser (now part of InBev), and McDonald's are currently on the sponsor rolls for the tournament, which will be hosted by Russia in 2018. Presumably, the Moscow McDonald's locations that the Russians shut down for health reasons--right around the time the U.S. was applying sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine--will have been lifted by then so visitors can enjoy a Coke and Big Mac.
Whether Coca-Cola and McDonald's will still be in bed with FIFA by then is certainly a legitimate question. If the corruption charges are proved out, how much longer can they be associated with Thiefa? Sorry, I mean FIFA.
Sponsorship issues go well beyond big companies and big events. Coke and Mickey D's and Bud are outfits with all kinds of sponsorship experience, from local Little League teams through every minor and major professional sport extant. Beverage companies crave "pouring rights" and there's no better venue to show your thirst-quenching wares than the World Cup, which usually takes place in the heat of summer. You certainly can't expect every partnership to be frictionless--but you should expect the organization you're sponsoring to be on the up and up.
That status has eluded FIFA like Lionel Messi does defenders. After decades of allegations, insinuations, and outright evidence of corruption, the indictments of FIFA officials will force sponsors to take a hard look at their relationship with soccer's governing body and the man who runs it. True, FIFA president Sepp Blatter was not charged by the U.S., and he is shocked, shocked, that any such thing could happen to the beautiful game on his watch. In fact, Blatter claims his organization the one who called the Swiss cops.
It's a bravura performance, but the game may be over. If Blatter's two-faced leadership somehow continues, it may be enough to get American corporations off the field. Coke, for instance, had earlier expressed its disappointment at FIFA's own investigation into allegations of corruption related to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively. FIFA refused to release a report by U.S. investigator Michael Garcia, who then slammed the 42-page summary prepared by the organization, which largely exonerated itself.
Coke also is taking heat for being associated with World Cup organizers in Qatar, who are accused of abusing workers building stadiums for the tournament. In the wake of the arrests, Coke and other firms have issued somewhat blandly worded statements. "This lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup and we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations. We expect FIFA to continue to address these issues thoroughly," the Coca-Cola Company said.
It's not as though these companies are unfamiliar with the way FIFA works. In the mid 2000s, FIFA was caught trying to screw MasterCard out the right of first refusal on a sponsorship deal in favor of Blatter's preferred credit card organization, Visa International, which was subsequently awarded the contract. A U.S. judge ruled that FIFA had lied repeatedly to MasterCard during the negotiations--and to Visa too, for that matter. MasterCard eventually settled the case for $90 million, and declined any further opportunity to partner with FIFA. The reason was simple, the MasterCard CEO told me: Why would I want to be in business with these people?
That's a question that a few more companies have answered in the negative. Sony, for instance, is no longer a FIFA sponsor. You can ring that up to the company's recent operating troubles, but long before that one of its top executives told me there was no way he would recommend a renewal given the, shall we say, governance issues.
Visa, which had already extended its sponsorship with FIFA through 2022, took one of the more forceful positions against the organization. "Our disappointment and concern with FIFA in light of today's developments is profound," the company said in a statement. " As a sponsor, we expect FIFA to take swift and immediate steps to address these issues within its organization." But given its own history with FIFA, Visa should have known exactly what kind of organization it was dealing with. Now Visa and other companies--all of whom tout their social responsibility-- will have to decide if it's worth the damage to their brands to stay in the game.