The arrest of two sexily-dressed Dutch women on charges they broke laws covering ambush marketing during a World Cup match between the Netherlands and Denmark on Monday has highlighted the mounting pressure on football’s governing body to protect its interests – specifically its income stream – and those of its affiliates.
Around 30% of FIFA’s revenues come from sponsorship deals.
Its official sponsors, including Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser beer, will clearly begin to question the logic of splashing out millions of dollars to an organisation if the little-known and family owned Bavaria beer can jump on the bandwagon at its leisure.
Budweiser is the official World Cup beer and the only one sold at World Cup stadiums.
FIFA’s income for the 2007-10 World Cup cycle is at least $3.2bn, according to its latest financial report, with $1.2bn coming from commercial activities, including marketing sponsorship and licensing and the rest coming from the sale of television rights.
Budgeted income is at least $3.8bn for the four-year cycle up to the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
“Because these global sports events are becoming far more popular and moved into the mainstream, it’s for this reason why more and more brands want to get affiliated and it’s blurred the line between official and ambush,” said David Pinnington, head of sports marketing at Omnicom Media Group, which works with official sponsors at major sporting events.
Carlsberg, the Danish beer company, can build its brand in the UK through its association with the English national football team without becoming an official partner, even though that may cause problems for Budweiser, which is a sponsor.
Pepsi can leverage its association with a number of the stars of the World Cup, such as France’s Thierry Henry, Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba, potentially damaging Coca-Cola, which is a FIFA partner.
And the likes of the little-known Bavaria beer company can see its exposure rocket in the space of a couple of days just because it got 30 young, blonde fans to attend a football match at Soccer City stadium wearing skimpy dresses that are in the country’s national colour and a symbol of a beer advertising campaign back home.
Whether or not the arrests by local officials were an affront to civil liberties and free speech, it’s clear that FIFA will do what it takes to enforce its commercial rules, which allow only official partners to use the World Cup for advertising and promotion campaigns.
FIFA said it was “appalled” that companies “use innocent people as a tool to conduct these unlawful activities, thereby exposing them to possible criminal charges”.
It said it had written to a large number of companies before the tournament drawing their attention to specific South African legislation – the particularly stringent Contravention of Merchandise Marks Act protecting intellectual property which is now being used against the two Dutch girls.
“The matter is now under criminal investigation, and the South African Police Service is proceeding as per the normal legislation,” FIFA spokesperson Nicolas Maingot said.
David Atkinson, managing partner at London-based marketing agency Space, thinks FIFA’s message will be increasingly tough over coming tournaments and that it, as well as the International Olympic Committee, will have to be clearer about the implications of ambush marketing.
“We can anticipate that as FIFA and the IOC and other major sports rights holders seek to protect the rights of their sponsors and their organisations that they will continue to restrict or even (urge authorities to) arrest those who attempt to break the rights,” Atkinson said.
Ambush marketing is nothing new – it was originally called guerrilla marketing – and has grown in line with the increase in the profile of global sporting events.
It is widely thought to have started in 1996 around the European Football Championships in England and the Atlanta Olympic Games, and Nike is considered the pioneer – the sportswear company bought up poster sites all around the major stadiums during Euro ’96 even though it was not an official sponsor.
It didn’t seem to do any damage to Nike at the time – and the same can be said for Bavaria beer, at least in the short term, unless anything untoward emerges from the South African police investigation.
“If their objective is to get brand awareness, then they certainly delivered brand exposure around the world but whether it’s good or bad is another matter,” said Omnicom’s Pinnington.
Bavaria has a history
Bavaria beer has a history of these gimmicks although it insisted on Thursday that it won’t be pulling any more stunts, at least during this World Cup.
At a 2006 World Cup match in Stuttgart, Germany, a number of Dutch fans had to watch a match between the Netherlands and Ivory Coast in their underpants because officials took umbrage at their choice of outerwear – bright orange lederhosen carrying the name of Bavaria.
That fact alone suggests FIFA had its eye on any fresh stadium insurgency from Bavaria beer.
Whether the heavy-handed approach has worked is doubtful as the girls are splashed over the world’s media.
Bavaria beer is now known the world over – an incredible reward for no investment. News 24