FIFA struggles to attract sponsors for Russia’s 2018 World Cup

The next FIFA World Cup kicks off on June 14 in Russia next year, and there has been much anticipation around it. The Volunteer Programme has been a massive success, and 150,000 applications have been received, setting history.

Worryingly enough, however, two-thirds of the sponsorship slots remain unsold. So far, only 10 of up to 34 deals for next year’s finals in Russia have been confirmed. While there is still a year left for the programme, at this stage in Brazil, most sponsors were already in place.

Tournament organiser FIFA has signed just one new top-tier level partner, China’s Wanda Group, since the last tournament in Brazil.

Further worrying is the fact that for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, only one “regional sponsor”, Russia’s Alfa-Bank, has signed on out of a category of up to 20 sponsors.

“The sales process is ongoing, and new commercial affiliates will join the marketing program before the FIFA World Cup,” FIFA said in an e-mailed statement, without revealing any further details. FIFA’s longtime marketing head Thierry Weil left in October after Alfa-Bank and Wanda were brought on board. Fifa hired Philippe Le Floc’h as the chief commercial officer and Jean-François Pathy as director marketing services, but the only new sponsor under them is Hisense, who joined Budweiser and McDonalds in the second-tier “sponsor” category, which has between three and five vacancies. Not to mention, the 16-month deal announced Thursday by Hisense’s British division is unusually short for FIFA, which typically looks for contracts of at least two World Cups.

The reasons for companies’ reluctance to sign with the organisation and for the particular World Cup may include the $150 million cost of the most expensive deal and the fallout from FIFA’s 2015 corruption scandal. At the moment, the only positive from the governing body’s struggle to attract sponsors would be that the future World Cups will bring more localised sponsorship deals.
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