As the World Cup arrives this June, global brands will continue to see a return on investment with their commitment to soccer. A brand’s ability to generate a worthwhile ROI on a sports sponsorship varies greatly based on the strength of the connection between the brand and the sport, the connection between the brand’s audience and the sport, and the company’s strategy and ability to engage with its audience. Sponsors with immense scale and global presence will likely benefit both in the short term (through incremental sales) and long term (building equity and brand loyalty) according to Tom Weisman, senior director of Analytics Partners.
A global brand like Coca-Cola may see great returns from its World Cup sponsorship because of its long association with the sport, through fans identifying the brand as a natural fit with the event, and thanks to its commitment to dedicating significant resources to activate its sponsorship. As the only official beer sponsor, Budweiser sees the event as an avenue for raising its visibility among new international audiences, like China, where they are less known.
On the other hand, Weisman points out, a company like adidas may reinforce its position as one of the world’s most important supporters of soccer, but it may struggle to maintain high returns from its sponsorship due to competitors like Nike, which sponsors a number of teams and individual players and runs its own campaign parallel to the World Cup. A new World Cup partner, China-based Wanda – a private property developer and cinema chain owner – has no inherent connection with soccer, which might make it difficult for them to gain traction with fans.
This World Cup provides a special opportunity for sponsors in the ever-evolving digital space.
While big American brands with global footprints will have a strong presence at the Russia-hosted World Cup, marketers may experience a lower interest from U.S. based consumers, both because the U.S. team will not be competing and the fact that the time zone difference does not enable U.S. TV audiences to watch in real-time.
This World Cup provides a special opportunity for sponsors in the ever-evolving digital space. Weisman advises that mobile and social represent the biggest opportunities for sponsors this year with cross platform usage offering more opportunity for engaging audiences and disseminating content. Analytic Partners’ studies have shown that “owned and earned engagement has boosted incremental sales from paid marketing an additional 2%-6%”, and the more platforms used, the stronger the ROI may be in the digital ecosystem because there is so much sharing across platforms.
According to CNN, the 2014 World Cup was the biggest social media event in web history at the time, with the final match alone spurring 280 million interactions by 88 million people just on Facebook.
“Have a strong campaign and brand message that makes the contextual relevance clear, and tie it to the soccer event, with superior content, particularly video,” advises Weisman. He also reminds businesses seeking to maximize their sports sponsorship ROI in the digital space to integrate offline and online and to use multiple platforms to drive synergy.
According to CNN, the 2014 World Cup was the biggest social media event in web history at the time, with the final match alone spurring 280 million interactions by 88 million people just on Facebook. Because this only accounts for the social interactions during the final game and not all of the interactions from the entire month long event, World Cup 2014 easily surpassed the 2013 Super Bowl, the former leader, with its 245 million interactions.
Is the FIFA Brand Strong Enough to Attract Sponsorship for Future World Cups?
Public scandals have dogged FIFA over the past decade. In 2010 Russia was awarded the World Cup the day before the BBC revealed its investigation into FIFA’s ethics violations. In 2011 a FIFA presidential candidate was found guilty of bribery and banned from all international soccer activity for life. In 2015 the U.S. government indicted top soccer officials on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering and the Swiss government launched a criminal investigation into the bid process for both the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 Cup in Qatar. This led to FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter, resigning later that year. Controversy over the selection of Qatar for 2022 is still simmering, with a report from the International Trade Union Confederation in March 2014 indicating that 1,200 World Cup workers – largely South Asian immigrants – have died in Qatar since 2010 due to substandard living conditions, and it estimates that 4,000 workers could die by the time the event takes place.
As a result of these numerous scandals tied to FIFA leadership and World Cup site selection processes, a number of global sponsors, including VISA, adidas and Sony, have spoken out and called on FIFA to address the issues within the organization, citing their companies’ commitments to ethics and labor rights, and their intention of “monitoring” the situation in Qatar and FIFA’s oversight of its leadership. In reality though, since Brazil 2014, FIFA is only down one global partner. We see more change in 2018 at the second tier level, with five global sponsorships slots filled compared to eight during 2014. For the last category, just a little over one month before the start of the 2018 World Cup, Alfa Bank, Alrosa, Russian Airways, Rostelecom, and Yadea have all been named regional supporters, though none have yet been published on the FIFA website sponsor page.
To date, most sponsors have maintained their relationship with FIFA citing their commitment to supporting the global passion for soccer and the strong ties between fans and the World Cup. Those departing have sought other promotional opportunities to better connect with their brands and audiences. Despite the controversies, the World Cup continues to be one of the most popular events in the world. Sponsors continue to step up and build major marketing programs to leverage it…and fans love their World Cup brands!