Remember those selfies of David Cameron, President Xi and Sergio Aguero, gurning for the camera during a tour of Manchester City’s home ground, the Etihad? Two of the most famous men in the world. And David Cameron.
Fast forward to today and the Chinese government’s football strategy is taking shape with brands playing a central role.
According to the Financial Times, smartphone maker Vivo has agreed to pay €400m (£349m) to Fifa to sponsor the World Cup and other tournaments until 2022.
This brings the number of Chinese brands on the Fifa roster to three after Wanda and Hisense, both of which have signed up with world football’s governing body over the past year.
How we judge this news probably depends on where in the world we live and work.
In the UK and Europe, the response will likely be to question the wisdom of sliding your brand alongside Fifa, a word buffeted by scandal and corruption. This view is supported by the decisions of some of Fifa’s former partners, some of which chose not to renew the relationship when the previous contracts were up.
However, the view from Beijing will look very different.
The Fifa World Cup remains one of the great sporting occasions and one of relatively few truly global marketing platforms, with the ability to make a brand famous to a huge audience in many different markets.
Vivo is virtually unknown in Europe and North America, but is the world’s fifth-biggest seller of mobile phones. "We are a young and fast-growing company, and a sponsorship on the scale of this one, is a statement of intent about the global arrival of Vivo," Ni Xudong, Vivo’s executive vice-president, said.
And he’s right. Football and, yes, Fifa, retain the ability to make a brand famous quickly, a handy tactic for unknown brands with deep pockets, looking to break into lucrative new markets in Europe and America. This is what ‘Big Sport’ has done for the last three decades and why sponsorship at the top end remains a cost effective choice for the right company.
This is not a one-off deal. Vivo has put sport at the centre of its growth strategy, with previous collaborations in Indian cricket and domestic basketball.
And then there’s the politics: this is football, after all. With three brands now sitting at Fifa’s top table, the odds on a World Cup in China before 2030 just shortened considerably.
Jim Dowling is managing director of Havas Sport & Entertainment Cake