If you’ve been waiting for cracks to appear in the wall of FIFA’s indifference to public opinion, then you’ll be pleased to hear that a little light shone through this week—two of FIFA’s six major sponsors will not be renewing their deals in 2015.
Though football’s governing body has many many sponsors, it only has six official “FIFA partners,” which is corporate speak for the companies that pay FIFA the big bucks. Right now, those six are Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, Emirates Airlines, Sony and Visa.
On Tuesday, Sony announced it would follow Emirates Airlines in letting its deal expire at the end of 2014.
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke is arguing that these desertions are all perfectly normal. “Both Sony and Emirates have nothing to do with the situation we are facing these last days,” Valcke said to the AP. “I know that football is still a very strong product and I am not really concerned with FIFA’s finances for the future.”
“The situation” Valcke is referring to is FIFA declaring itself innocent after an internal investigation into the controversial Qatar and Russia World Cup bidding process—an announcement that immediately looked suspicious when Michael Garcia, the man who led the investigation, noted that the summary published by FIFA did not accurately reflect his findings.
Whatever Valcke says, the timing of Sony’s announcement should leave no doubt about the reason behind it. A third partner, Coca-Cola, has called the investigation’s results “disappointing.”
FIFA has been gloriously oblivious to criticism in the past. Not even John Oliver’s masterful takedown on HBO could rattle them, and I think that’s because FIFA knows that people will always love football, and won’t stop watching World Cups no matter how corrupt FIFA appears to be.
But companies like Sony and Emirates are not sponsoring football, no matter how much they pay. They’re sponsoring football’s governing body, and so the worse FIFA’s image becomes, the less attractive a partnership deal becomes.
Will this blow be enough to bulldoze that wall of FIFA’s hostile indifference? Possibly not. But what happens behind that wall in January 2015 will be interesting. Will two new companies pay up to replace Sony and Emirates as “FIFA partners?” Or is that a label that’s no longer worth paying money for?