Who would bother sponsoring the World Cup?

The World Cup has dozens of sponsors. Companies like McDonalds, Sony and Budwesier, with a combined value of trillions of dollars. Are they wasting their money?

The biggest PR win of the World Cup so far has been by headphone company Beats by Dre.

Beats headphones

They got stacks of press when players were banned from wearing their products in the arenas, with FIFA citing Sony’s sponsorship as the reason. (Press examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 ...)

Here’s the lead from the original Reuters story:

“Neymar likes them Brazil-green. England’s Wayne Rooney, white. Luis Suarez, blue.

Banned from the pitch by FIFA for licensing reasons, the bulky Beats headphones are a favorite for many of the world’s top players, making the World Cup a huge unofficial ad for the company acquired by Apple Inc last month.”

The message is clear: players that are idols to kids around the world really want to wear Beats Headphones – if only the powers that be would get off their back! Somewhere, a PR agent is looking at a payslip with the biggest bonus they have ever seen.

Just one of the many articles I linked to notes that the ban might be just what Beats was after. That kind of disruption shows business smarts and is probably why Apple recently paid $3 billion to acquire Beats.

A sponsorship costs a lot. How much is a closely guarded secret, but possibly over a hundred million dollars for the top rung. FIFA is set to make $1.4 billion from sponsorship from this World Cup.


Companies who don’t get their name on teh FIFA website don’t hang their heads and trudge home. They instead prepare for ambush marketing. At the last World Cup, a beer company called Bavaria Brewery reaped the spoils.

“The company gave hundreds of young women skimpy orange Bavaria-branded dresses before a match between the Netherlands and Denmark. When the women were ejected and a number were arrested under South Africa’s Contravention of Merchandise Marks Act — an anti-ambush marketing law passed in advance of the country’s World Cup — the reaction sparked an international backlash that brought the company loads of free media attention.”

McDonalds is a major sponsor of the World Cup, but appears to be trying to run an ambush marketing campaign anyway, by making tie-in products with names they could have used even without buying a sponsorship.


Coke and Pepsi are also battling it out for pre-eminence. Pepsi’s Rio-based ad shows that no matter how much you fence off a sponsorship, you can’t own the concept of football, the town where a tournament is based, or the personalities that bring it to life.

Formal association with the tournament means dealing with FIFA – nothing to be proud of. Meanwhile, being associated with Lionel Messi is unambiguously good marketing.

Consumers, meanwhile, have little idea who is a sponsor and who is not. 38 per cent think Mastercard sponsors the World Cup (wrongly), 42 per cent realise Visa does.

If I were a shareholder in McDonalds or Coca-Cola, I’d understand. These are massive legacy brands that don’t want to yield an inch to competitors. But for the likes of Sony, Hyundai and Adidas, the decision to sponsor reeks of timidity and a lack of creativity. If they can’t think of a better way to spend their marketing dollar they should probably save it instead.

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

2 thoughts on “Who would bother sponsoring the World Cup?”

  1. I was sure Samsung and Nike were sponsors, and I’ve watched a fair bit of this world cup. FIFA needs to improve their deals with official broadcasters like SBS and have the half-time break locked in with official sponsors only.


  2. If you google make dr beats you will see a video by a geek lamenting that dr beats look so cool but the sound is pretty ordinary. So be converts his Bose headphones to look like dr beats and shows you how.


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