TMA’s senior vice-president of sports, Mary O’Connor talked about the challenges and possible opportunities facing sponsors of FIFA in light of the recent corruption allegations.
Q: To what degree are allegations of mismanagement at FIFA likely to impact the reputation or perception of its sponsors?
MOC: Any impact to the reputation of the sponsors will be directly tied to two things: What FIFA does moving forward and how the sponsors react moving forward. Do they fight for positive change, and pay close attention to the needs and desires of the fans?
Q: How should companies approach the measurement of such potential impact – are there metrics that can be utilized?
MOC: For starters, sponsors need to pay close attention to the impact this situation has had on the global soccer fan. Will fans’ affinity for the teams and athletes that compete be impacted at all? And if so, what does that do to the value of the FIFA partnerships?
Q: Do you feel that there would be commercial advantage to being the first sponsor to end a relationship with FIFA or will brand s be hesitant to do so for fear of losing the commercial advantages that sponsorship offers/open the doors to competitors?
MOC: Sponsors must make sure to align themselves with properties that create a positive connection in the mind of the consumer. And while football remains the most watched game in the world, if something doesn’t change quickly, the negative impact of a connection to FIFA may not be worth the access to hundreds of millions of fans. But this decision needs to be a thoughtful one – not one that is purely reactionary.
A number of sponsors have put out messages expressing concern and urging transparency and change, without laying out concrete expectations. Is this the right approach and why?
At this point in the game, yes. It shows that sponsors are rightly concerned, but waiting to gather information in order to make an informed decision regarding the path forward.
Q: Is there benefit from remaining a FIFA partner, helping to facilitate change and then sending this message – i.e. that the sponsor has been an active force driving positive change?
MOC: While a crisis is never a good thing, it provides sponsors with an opportunity to take the lead in driving change for good. Playing an active role in preserving or restoring the integrity of FIFA can have a positive effect on a sponsor’s brand . Sponsors should demand to know:
— What exactly happened and how did it happen?
— What FIFA is doing right now to correct the situation?
— What concrete steps FIFA is taking to prevent this from happening again?
— What FIFA is going to do to to make things right for those parties who’ve been affected or wronged?
Words are one thing; actions are more powerful — and more credible. Sponsors should call for an independent audit of business practices — and in the spirit of transparency — make the findings of that audit public.
Sponsors can offer FIFA their expertise in developing effective processes and procedures to help ensure a crisis like this never happens again. Press for the formation of a true FIFA “ethics and accountability” committee consisting of corporate and non-profit executives from around the world who will oversee the creation and application of a code of conduct. Further, press for a respected independent expert who can lead the committee on a permanent basis.
It’s about changing the culture inside FIFA. This is a difficult task, but one that sponsors should work together on to force over the coming months.