FIFA - could it be the next fall of an empire?

What came before the fall of the Roman Empire... and the fall of the US economy? Greed and arrogance! It was a group of people that became so wound up in their own power that they lost touch with reality. Recently there is a very prominent global brand constantly in the news in South Africa and abroad, that seems to be following in these footsteps. Is it possible that the FIFA brand is overstepping its legitimate reach, eroding its base goodwill and support, and as a result will topple in the not too distant future?
FIFA is essentially about soccer, and soccer is definitely about the masses. Soccer is 'blind' to language spoken, ethnic background or socio-economic status. It is the most widely played (and watched) sport in the world and as a result creates connections amongst broader communities. So, essentially FIFA is a body that looks after the sport- it doesn't own it. But why does it seem that they think they do?

Winning the bid to host the FIFA 2010 World Cup, was a massive honour for South Africa. There was guaranteed economic uplift - through the building of stadiums and transport infrastructure, projected tourism spinoffs and the massive influx of foreigners expected to visit our shores. What wasn't expected by most, is the power that FIFA would wield over our country as a whole. It has become clear that FIFA dictates and overrules many of the contracts that were put in place before the World Cup. For example, once sponsors were announced, billboards reflecting other 'opposition' brands, needed to be removed - even if they were paying for that space. All Many stadium season tickets became null and void and other sporting events are to be sidelined during that time, with FIFA enforcing this rule as they own the 'marketing rights' for that period. As a result, there are many disgruntled rugby fans, who not only have lost their seat at their beloved Loftus, but may not be able to watch a Super 14 final at their team's home ground as the match conflicts with the soccer World Cup schedule!

Another highly contentious issue in the news recently was the public outcry and subsequent debate around the introduction of a R50 000 license to establishments that would stand to gain financially as a result of screening matches during the World Cup. So, your local pub that already has a liquor license, big screen TV and valid TV license and DSTV subscription, would need to pay FIFA an extra R50 000 just because they are screening a soccer match? Ridiculous! The rule was later amended to only include establishments that were setting up specifically for the World Cup. No matter what was intended by this rule, the fact is that the public believed that FIFA would do such a thing (even if they didn't), so brand perception is already that it is a money grabbing, arrogant organisation that makes it difficult for anyone other than the sponsors to benefit from the event, surely not what we originally signed up for? Not a good perception that any brand would like to convey.

These strict rules and regulations, have funnily enough, been in the local and international media spotlight with kulula's latest ambush marketing campaign. Their very cleverly thought out campaign about being the 'unofficial national carrier of the you know what', not only brought a chuckle to our lips, but a roar of laughter at FIFA's expense when they issued their harsh response - giving kulula exactly the publicity (and subsequent ticket sales) that they wanted, and further adding negative perception to the FIFA brand with journalists coining phrases such as 'General Blatter and his Swiss Guards'. Now, as a nation we are all behind the World Cup, but soccer may not be our life and FIFA is enforcing such strict rules that it seems to be dominating our very existence.

When a brand starts acting in a manner that the public deems unfair and outside the norms of what is acceptable, it is in a very dangerous space. As public dissatisfaction becomes evident and the brand loses favour amongst the 'masses' FIFA is in a precarious situation as the people it is dissatisfying are the same people who's support it so desperately needs.

Of course hosting the World Cup is an honour, it is debatable with regards to actual financial gain, but there are great advantages to being the host country. However, FIFA wields their financial mega-status like a gun over this country's head. Rules have been made that are starting to leave a bad taste in the general South African's mouth. This is not a good way to run a brand!

If FIFA (or any brand at that) continues in this manner, there will eventually be a backlash and the tide will turn. It may seem inconceivable, but is very possible that in the future countries may not wish to host the event and sponsors may find that aligning with the FIFA will impact negatively on their brand- a thought that is not too far fetched. Brands must never let their commercial power destroy the values of an organisation as the brand will be viewed as tyrannical, forcing the tide to turn and sweep your brand away!

3 Jun 2010 11:08


About the author

Anthony Swart is the CEO for The Brand Union in Africa. A deeply rooted African, with decades of experience in branding and marketing, Anthony has a passion for developing this continent and its brands, and a vision to help grow indigenous African brands to reach their full potential. Anthony has a Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Psychology and an MBA focusing on the importance of Brand delivering on its promise. Anthony is married with 3 young children and is an avid (if part time!) sportsman.