The news that Qatar Airways is to be the official sponsors and official airline for the next two World Cups, Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, will be music to the ears of all at FIFA following the alleged corruption that has damaged the world governing body over the past few years.
The monetary value of the new deal has not been disclosed but the arrangement, which also covers the 2017 Confederation Cup, the World Club Cup and the 2019 Women`s World Cup, will provide a tangible though immeasurable boost to the tainted image FIFA has had to operate under in recent times.
Qatar Airways joins Coca-Cola, Gazprom, Visa, Hyundai and Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group who all occupy the highest tier of three occupied by official FIFA partners. A second Chinese organisation has also become a top tier sponsor, Hisense, the electronics giant has agreed a 15 month deal to sponsor the 2017 Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup.
Although the deal falls short of previous sponsorship deals and below the level which FIFA wanted it is still near the $100 million dollar mark. Hisense president Liu Hongxin has said that a major factor in the deal was the 65% increase in European sales following the 2016 European Championships.
Rival Middle East carriers Emirates was a FIFA sponsor until 2014 when it announced it would not renew after a lengthy spell during which sponsors were asked to `respond robustly` to allegations of bribery surrounding the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Though Emirates did indicate, in 2015, that they could be interested in sponsoring a future World Cup.
FIFA has said of the new deal with Qatar Airways that it represents one of the biggest sporting sponsorships in the world and the largest in Qatar Airways` history. As far as football sponsorship goes it also strengthens the airline`s connection with the game as it already sponsors Barcelona FC.
The deal also represents a major `thumbs up` for FIFA showing they can still attract global brands despite the allegations of bribery and corruption which punctuated the reign of Sepp Blatter.
The world governing body still has a large number of vacant slots for second tier sponsors and third tier regional supporters. This new Qatar Airways deal will contribute significantly to the $100 million surplus target FIFA needs for the four year cycle that ends with the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The added financial burden for the governing body is their promise to increase revenue, made by newly-elected president Gianni Infantino, to facilitate greater payments to member federations to develop the game.
Football`s governing body is more than aware of the `cash cow` it is responsible for and has secured some mind-boggling sponsorship deals in the past. Deals which have been sullied through the various corruption allegations that emerged in the past few years.
Deals such as:
Coca Cola`s £290 million deal from 2005-2012 which was replaced by a new deal which runs until 2022.
Adidas whose £186 million contract was not renewed after it expired in 2014.
Hyundai – a £182 million deal which was extended in 2016 to 2022.
Visa, who had an £85 million, eight year, deal that was not renewed when it ran out in 2014.
Sony`s £222 million deal also ran out in 2014 and was not extended, due to the corruption allegations.
Emirates` £118 million deal ran from 2006 until December 2014 when it was not extended.
So, more than one billion pounds worth of sponsorship deals over a decade. The major task now facing the new regime at FIFA is combating the damage done to their bank balance and reputation by the mud that was slung and which stuck causing the downfall of many of the leaders of the governing body. Damage which has already cost the support of leading sponsors such as Sony and Emirates airline.
Bringing new sponsors on board has been the priority which is why the leadership of the world governing body will be breathing a huge sigh of relief that Qatar Airways is now on board. FIFA will hope that where Qatar lead others will follow. Of the four major partners who expressed concern when corruption allegations first emerged in 2011 only one remains with FIFA, Sony.
With the actual value of the Qatar deal shrouded in secrecy the fact that Coca-Cola`s new extended deal is reputedly on or near, maybe even in excess of, the previous £290 million shows that the FIFA brand is still healthy.
But reputational damage cannot be healed by money alone. For example, how FIFA spends its money has come under greater scrutiny in recent times. Even the £16 million spent on the critically lambasted UNITED PASSION film. Sixteen million pounds can buy a great deal of football equipment for most of the 211 member federations.
FIFA is only too aware that the next few steps, and more, they make will not only have to be taken with the best of intentions but will need to be seen as such.
By Brian Beard