CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/WORLD CUP SPONSORSHIP - Sponsors discover World Cup is fair game for all. Will the official endorsers find their huge spending defeated, John Tylee asks?

Gazza may not be the only person to have shed tears by the time the final whistle blows on this summer’s World Cup. A few multi-national companies may also be left rueing their involvement in the great soccer extravaganza.

Gazza may not be the only person to have shed tears by the time the

final whistle blows on this summer’s World Cup. A few multi-national

companies may also be left rueing their involvement in the great soccer


It’s clear that the monster is untameable by even the biggest official

sponsors. Turn on the TV or go shopping and there’s Alan Shearer selling

everything from Big Macs to Braun shavers. Almost every advertiser you

could name wants to hang on to the World Cup’s bootstrings and is

getting trampled in the process.

The event has become such a universal property that sponsorship of it

has almost become an irrelevance. As Graham Bednash, a managing partner

of the media strategist, Michaelides & Bednash, puts it: ’All

advertisers using football imagery are now sponsors. Whether they are

official or not is of no interest to consumers.’

For the dozen official sponsors, each of whom have spent an estimated

pounds 20 million, these are testing times in which the main event has

become almost a sideshow to their own knock-out competition.

It will be a gruelling battle. One survey has already shown that most

consumers don’t know who the World Cup’s official sponsors are. (Answer:

McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Snickers, Adidas, JVC, Budweiser, Canon, Fuji,

Gillette, MasterCard, Opel and Philips.)

Matthew Patten, the chief executive of M&C Saatchi’s sponsorship

division, says: ’In any event, where there are more than three sponsors,

the likelihood is that only one will generate a significant increase in

awareness. There’s going to be an awful lot of losers.’

Worse, all of them are at the mercy of ’ambush’ marketing. International

Sports & Leisure, FIFA’s Switzerland-based sponsorship agency, has very

limited powers to control either the sponsor-ships offered by the

tournament’s broadcasters or the advertising built around national teams

and individual players.

An agency group executive working for a couple of the official sponsors

agrees that ’policing’ sponsors’ rights has become a contentious


’Major sponsors are getting fed up,’ he says. ’But there isn’t much ISL

can do because it has no control of national teams off the pitch.’

So are the official sponsors being taken for a very expensive ride? It’s

easy to believe so when Adidas can only look in dismay at Nike’s

sponsorship of Brazil - the team most synonymous with the skill and

spectacle of the World Cup - even if its involvement has provoked

allegations that it is influencing team selection and fixtures.

But paying a sum roughly equivalent to Shearer’s current transfer value

can’t be said to be entirely wasted when it gives advertisers the

opportunity to reach two difficult and fickle audiences - young people

and the AB consumers being drawn into the game as it moves upmarket.

What’s more, it may be wrong to assume that the World Cup ad clutter in

the UK - where Carlsberg’s sponsorship of the national team is at odds

with Budweiser’s role as an event sponsor - is reflected elsewhere. Nick

Walford, managing director of Vision 40, MindShare’s specialist

sponsorship subsidiary, says: ’The World Cup is one of the few real

opportunities to present a simultaneous and consistent global message

This is specially important in developing markets such as Africa where

football is hugely popular.’

Official sponsorship also pays dividends in a less obvious way. Alex

Fynn, the ex-deputy chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, now a football

industry consultant, believes Fuji’s purchase of 11,000 tickets for the

tournament is just as important as its licence to use the World Cup


’Not only can it use its World Cup associations to give its products an

edge but the tickets can cement important business relationships with

buyers and suppliers,’ he points out.

The problems arise when advertisers isolate their sponsorship from other

marketing activity and give too little thought to whether synergy exists

between their products and the game. Euro 96, in particular, brought

home to companies the importance of extra investment to underpin their

association with the competition.

’Advertisers like McDonald’s are leveraging their involvement in the

right way because they have a natural affinity with football,’ Bednash

comments. ’But Fuji’s sponsorship fits oddly with its brand - and some

companies confuse awareness with branding.’

Laurence Munday, managing director of Drum PHD, the Abbott Mead Vickers

Group sponsorship specialist,which has been working on World Cup

assignments for Gillette and Snickers, says: ’You can’t just buy the

licensing rights and expect everything to happen.’

At Publicis, which handles the MasterCard and Coke business, Dan

O’Donoghue, the UK group’s deputy chairman, acknowledges that the credit

card company has an easier job than the soft drinks manufacturer.

While MasterCard can build on what is likely to be a big upswing in the

use of plastic in France by visiting fans, ubiquitous brands such as

Coke and Snickers have a tougher task, he says. ’It’s harder to justify

sponsorship for a mass-market brand whose marketing strategy isn’t built

around a sporting event.’

It seems the worst any World Cup sponsor can do is to get complacent,

drop the work rate and expect fame alone to see it through. Gazza made

that mistake - and look what happened to him.

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