27 May 2015

Fifa arrests: why they’ll worry big corporations

Fifa is a company with a $2bn-a-year turnover. That’s big, but not massive… until you realise all it does is sell TV rights to World Cup matches, hospitality rights, and marketing rights.

It sits at the centre of a football economy worth $30bn a year – the biggest segment of the global sports industry by far.

When US prosecutors say Fifa’s execs have “corrupted global football”, that will ring alarm bells in every global brand associated with football.

Because the investigations focus on the sports marketing part of Fifa.

When you see a billboard or a logo behind a player in an interview – that’s been sold.

For truly global brands – like Adidas, Coke and Visa – the big global sporting events are critical for keeping their brands truly global. The World Cup is almost the only event after the Olympics with true global appeal.

They deal with FIFA through middlemen – sports marketing companies – and it is these middlemen who are alleged to have bribed FIFA officials, or participated in a system where bribery was normal for more than two decades. One, Jose Hawilla, has pleaded guilty and paid the US government $151m.

There is no suggestion that any of the sponsors have been involved in criminal activity.

But the ultimate source of all the money flowing through football was TV companies and global brand names. Last June Adidas, Sony, Visa and Coca Cola called on Fifa to investigate bribery allegations around the Qatari bid for the World Cup.

Adidas today called on Fifa to “continue to establish and follow transparent compliance standards in everything they do”.

The arrests are new. The allegations are not. The question that hangs over these proceedings now: what really happened in the 25 years during which the US DoJ alleges corruption was “rampant, systemic and deep rooted”?

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