Saturday , 23 March 2019
Home > Brand strategy & thought pieces > The beautiful game just got ugly, for fans, players and sponsors

The beautiful game just got ugly, for fans, players and sponsors

the beautiful gameThe beautiful game of football is at is best when the gentle balance of fans, players and sponsors reaches a natural equilibrium.

I can’t help feel sorry for Brazil, they are the most-crowned FIFA World Cup champions and have been awarded the hosting responsibilities of this illustrious competition for the second (ed.) time but the social unrest in the country threatens to overshadow what should have been their day, their chance to showcase the beautiful game.

Let’s think about this from a marketing perspective.

If I were a big brand sponsor of the FIFA World Cup I would be more than a bit nervous about what is going on…

  1. Fans are caring less about the national team that has slipped to a record-low of 22nd in the FIFA league tables
  2. The population as a whole is protesting against the financial burden that will be put on a nation struggling to look after the populous as it is
  3. The boom years have flattened out a little, not to say they are not still in a period of fantastic growth but Brazil’s economy has a lot of expectation on its shoulders and civil unrest will not be helping to achieve any of this expectation
  4. The response by the police was initially pretty extreme, since word got out about their early reactions they have taken a more measured approach but how does this bode for hundreds of thousands of fans from 32 nations next year after a few caipirinhas
  5. What happens if the protestors start targeting those pumping money into such tournaments, i.e. the sponsors?

These are big issues that would be running through my head if I were a brand strategist or sponsorship director right now.

There does not seem to be any need for FIFA, or indeed the IOC, to consider taking their $Billion juggernauts away from Brazil, but consideration of the people as a whole needs to be addressed.

Personally I think that brands will end up doing a lot more engagement activities, not just for fun PR spots in ads but that rally people together for the good of the various Brazilian communities.

Think town tidies, school building, sport organisation and even education or health initiatives.

What they need to install is a sense of thoughtfulness, a feeling that the brands are not just sponsoring the biggest sports tournament in the world but they are taking responsibility for what is left behind after the posters and paper flags have been cleared away.

Brands take note: Do things for the better, not the Blatter.

Let’s make the beautiful game beautiful again.

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About GregDillon

Greg is the founder of strategy consultancy GD | Inspires and spends his days strategising for various design agencies and clients around the world - see more at He is also a prolific entrepreneur having launched - a website aimed at giving advice and insight to new, existing and veteran freelancers as well as commenting on all things strategic. Feel free to email him at: or follow on Twitter @StratTalking


  1. Hi Greg

    Just read your ‘Better, not Blatter’ piece, and I can’t agree more. I published a book last year which critically examined aggressive rights enforcement by sponsors and event organisers (particularly the FIFA clowns), which I think might contain some good advice to potential sponsors and others involved with linking brands to these mega-events and enforcing their rights (and, sometimes NOT enforcing those rights). You can have a look, the book was reviewed quite positively amongst the legal fraternity in the UK and Europe, and also by international sponsorship guru Kim Skildum-Reid – you can read her views at

    Cheers, Andre Louw, South Africa

  2. Hi, Greg, a few corrections though:
    1 – Brazil is not hosting for the first time ever, they have hosted the 1950 tournment
    2 – Fans are not caring less, on average, about the team, it is the opposite, they believe the team to have a bigger responsibility and as hosts an obligation to win. It is not rational, but that’s how it’s seen.

    I do not think any brand will assume the risk of trying to tangle with social issues in Brazil, it is a bottomless hole. Pretty much like engaging in Terror War in Afghenistan or Iraq, somewhat easy to get in, extremely difficult to get out, impossible to capitalize upon.

    • Hi Fernando,

      Thanks for the fact check – have amended.

      I think, like you, that it would be a big risk for brands to tangle with social issues but if they want to remain relevant and drive awareness and front of kind recognition they need to do more than hand out free stuff and make a mess.

      What do you think brands should do to stay on the side of the people?


      • Such a difficult question, this one… Mind you, regardless of the World Cup, the biggest companies have more social involviment in Brazil than in most countries, if not all. It is just that they do not use that as a marketing strategy, because it is unlikely to work. Brazilians are usually grateful but commercially insensitive to that.
        It might be that divulging social work done in Brazil in the US or Europe could help their image somehow, but not in the Brazilian market.
        Now, to stay on the side of the people who are protesting, specifically… they would have to choose a social action that can be tackled with money and money alone.
        For instance, sponsoring food donation, helping logistics of tragedy (usually floods) relief, these are the most effective actions that come to mind.
        Getting involved on things which budget release depend on politics, like health, education and transport, is a murky business that no company would like to get involved.
        One of the reasons people in Brazil are complaining is that nobody sponsored stadium constructions: there is a belief, and I confess I do not know if it stands, that Allianz fully sponsored the construction of the Munich new Stadium (not the 72 Olympic stadium, but the 06 WC stadium).
        One action that could prove very effective, image wise, is to sponsor and provide shuttle to supports holding game tickets to the stadiums on match days. Because, believe me, it will be a nightmare to get there, and even worse to leave back.
        Well I think you’re more specialized than me on this, but some ideas to give you food for thought.

        • Fantastic reply – thank you for going into such detail Fernando.

          I think it is good that brands do not shout about what they do socially, but do think that the message of what they do needs to be conveyed through public actions with no sales aspect to them. I like the idea of sponsoring food donations, ferrying people around for games etc. – initiatives that make a difference and impact those without tickets too.

          A great example of this is New Year’s Eve in London, every year a different brand sponsors the London Underground train service through the night so that for people out in London enjoying their New Year, transport home is completely free. A nice touch.

          Lets hope the brands are reading this post too and enact some of our thoughts!


  3. And by the way, if there’s a image severely damaged in the whole process, it was FIFA’s and it is only fair given their traditionally heavy handed approach, typical of a institution that responds to no-one and has no accountabillity whatsoever.
    I loved this article by John Brewin, I hope you do not mind me sharing it here (FIFA must change to live in the real world):


    • Great article, thank you very much for sharing – always happy for great material to be shared on Strat-Talking.

      Agree that FIFA has created a sense of playing above the law for many years, such a shame when their actions impact the lives and enjoyment of the game for millions around the world.

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