FIFA Scandal Could Distract From Women’s World Cup

U.S. women's soccer team
The U.S. women's soccer team in a friendly match against the U.K. in February
Getty Images

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off in Edmonton, Alberta, this Saturday for what was supposed to be a celebration of women in the world’s most popular sport. Instead, recent scandals surrounding the event’s organizer will likely cast a shadow over the tournament, according to experts.

As FN and other news outlets have reported, nine FIFA officials were indicted last week by the U.S. Department of Justice on suspicion of racketeering, conspiracy and corruption. In addition, the Swiss Attorney General is conducting a separate investigation into FIFA’s awarding process for the 2018 and 2022 men’s World Cups.

Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst at The NPD Group Inc., said, “It’s going to be a major topic of conversation [during the women’s tournament]. People are really paying attention to this.” He added that FIFA’s next actions could be impactful. “It’ll be interesting to see how FIFA responds and to see if the scandals will broaden. But it’s too soon to know yet [how far this could go].”

For World Cup sponsors like Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa, the situation is a tricky one, according to Carol Friedland, associate partner of strategy at branding firm Tenet Partners. “These sponsorships are already in place,” she said. “What becomes important for them now is to emphasize that their sponsorship is not about aligning with FIFA but about supporting women’s sports and aligning with those fans.”

She suggested the companies use social media as a way to communicate that message to consumers since most print and broadcast materials are already long-cemented. And, luckily, consumers have become more savvy about the nature of brand partnerships, Friedland added. “People understand now that a sponsorship is just a sponsorship.”

(All that is assuming, of course, that they are not implicated in the FIFA corruption charges, which would call for another course of action altogether. As it has with Nike.)

Both Powell and Friedland lamented the fact that the scandals could get in the way of the women’s tournament, which is always a boon for the sports world — and for athletic brands and retailers.

“Every four years, [during the World Cup], the sales go up over the previous four years,” said Powell. “Women’s soccer product is not as widely sold as the men’s, but I expect companies should see good numbers [because of the tournament].”