Chinese firms account for four of the 14 key sponsors and partners, and all three 'Asian supporter' brands are Chinese
London: Now that the greatest sporting event in the world has reached the business end of things, let’s take a final glance at the commercial aspects of the tournament.
The World Cup has a long history of association with some of the biggest corporate brands in the world. Two of the longest associated current sponsors are Coca-Cola (since at least 1982) and Adidas since the 1998 tournament.
A Fifa fact sheet, published online in 2015, lists 39 corporations that have ever been associated with the tournament as global sponsors or partners. After the 2006 edition of the tournament, Fifa unveiled a new commercial structure for the World Cup under which each edition would have six ‘partners’, six ‘World Cup Sponsors’ and six ‘National Supporters’. Incidentally, Satyam Computers became the first Indian company to sign up as a sponsor, when in 2007 it joined the roster of ‘World Cup Sponsors’ for the 2010 edition in South Africa.
Commercial interest in World Cup however is declining. In June, research firm Nielsen reported that commercials revenues for the 2018 tournament would fall to $1.45 billion, from the $1.63 billion in Brazil four years ago.
Fifa’s reputation as a toxic organization has not helped. In November, the New York Times noted that “one has to go back to 2011 to find the last new partner based in either Europe or the US—a one-tournament deal signed by Johnson & Johnson. And since Gianni Infantino swept to power in 2016 in the wake of the corruption crisis, Fifa has managed to secure marquee deals only with companies in countries set to host the World Cup (Russia and Qatar) and another (China) that hopes to do so."
Indeed the striking feature of this World Cup’s commercial structure is China’s centrality to it. Not only do Chinese companies account for four of the 14 key sponsors and partners—Wanda Group, Hisense, Mengniu Dairy, and VIVO—but all three ‘Asian supporter’ brands are also Chinese—Diking, Luci, and Yadea.
Research company Zenith estimates that of the total boost in global advertising spend of $2.4 billion driven by the tournament, around one-third of this will be because of increased advertising in China alone. Thus, even as the tournament takes place in Russia, the dominant commercial factor of the tournament increasingly appears to be China.
Also on top of mind for Fifa’s bean counters will be television viewership. The 2014 tournament saw a slight decline in viewership globally, and some of the blame for this has been put on the fact that match timings were unsuitable for Asian audiences.
This time that will no longer be an excuse. Fifa will hope that boosted interest in China, better match timings, and increased online streaming viewership will boost numbers. The one market that should see a boom in viewership is India. The 2014 tournament saw a substantial growth in Indian audiences. The World Cup in Russia comes at a crucial moment in the tournament’s history. Any decline in revenues, viewership, or Fifa’s already abysmal reputation, will push the tournament further into the hands of an eager Chinese establishment.