On June 2, former-president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, resigned after the indictment of other high-ranking FIFA officials last week. The corruption scandal created a large amount of buzz around FIFA from mainstream news to social media. Due to the amount of negative attention the football organization received, major sponsors such as Castrol, Sony, Johnson & Johnson, and Continental removed their support of FIFA to show opposition of corruption within the organization.
But was disassociating themselves from FIFA the best way for sponsors to stray away from negative PR? For some brands, stepping away from FIFA means losing millions of dollars in investments toward the organization and the World Cup, the ultimate advertising venue for sponsors. However, brands that stuck by FIFA during the corruption scandal had the threat of their brand image being tarnished and remove the value people see in the company.
As the news unfolded, most of the major sponsors of FIFA either stated concern for the organization’s wellbeing during the controversy, or removed themselves from the scandal entirely.
Some sponsors who remained with FIFA during the scandal received tremendous publicity (both positive and negative) from various media outlets. For Budweiser, they received some heat from fans of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, hosted by John Oliver. One report states that FIFA advertiser Budweiser had Twitter mentions spike 525% following the resignation, largely to do with John Oliver outing both Bud Light Lime and Blatter in his weekly HBO show. Oliver, who has expressed distastefulness of Bud Light, stated if FIFA sponsors withdrew their funding to FIFA to force Blatter from his presidency then he would say Bud Light Lime tasted like “champagne.” This created a social media buzz, which had a positive reception from both sponsors and the FIFA governing body.
— John Oliver (@iamjohnoliver) June 2, 2015
Budweiser however was quick to make some strategic PR statements regarding Blatter’s corruption before Oliver mentioned their beverage on his show, publishing a statement patronizing FIFA saying, “We expect all of our partners to maintain strong ethical standards and operate with transparency.” The Budweiser PR team didn’t stick to just a traditional PR crisis plan and took the opportunity to engage back with Oliver’s promise on Twitter.
.@iamjohnoliver cheers to a man of his word
— Bud Light (@budlight) June 8, 2015
At the same time, additional sponsors put the pressure on both FIFA and Sepp Blatter to combat the negative attention they were getting, including heavyweights Visa and Coca-Cola. Visa stated that without action regarding the organization’s scandal, it would have to reassess its sponsorship of the brand. This goes along with Coca-Cola saying the controversy had, “tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup.”
The PR teams behind the brands that stood by FIFA all implemented a similar crisis plan during the scandal:
- Public recognition of the scandal and its wrongdoing
- Insistence that the scandal does not represent brand
- Consistent communication that the brand has put pressure on FIFA to make drastic changes
- Utilization of all channels (traditional and digital) to listen and engage with media and fans
All in all, the PR teams worked different angles to create the optimal image for their brand by the end of the scandal.
Connor Zazzo is a 20 year-old student-athlete and junior at The University of Tampa. He is currently studying Communications with a focus on advertising and public relations. While interning with lotus823 he looks forward to learning and improving his knowledge of digital marketing. Some of Connor’s hobbies include competing on the University’s swim team and lifeguarding at beaches along the Jersey Shore.