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1950-2014: A history of sponsorship at the Fifa World Cup

When Fifa organised the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930, the event and the objectives of the federation were very different to the ones we recognise today.

Up to 1928, the Olympic football tournament had been the de facto World Championship of football, but the federation resolved to create an international competition of its own to free itself from the constraints of the Olympic movement. The amateur ideals of the Games forbade an emerging class of professional footballers from a handful of national football associations from competing in the event, so the Fifa Congress voted to create a World Cup tournament that would be open to all its members.

Though the tournament was created to meet a commercial imperative, at this stage Fifa’s leadership was still more wedded to the Olympic ideals of using sport to promote understanding across cultures and as a means of projecting national prestige than any desire to make money from the competition. The notion of the governing body as rights-holder and the concept of sports sponsorship didn’t exist for the early iterations of the tournament and would only gradually evolve as the profile of the competition grew in the post-war years.

Between the tournament’s 1930 debut and West Germany’s hosting of the event in 1974, sponsorship activity was mostly confined to the actions of a handful of opportunists who had the good sense to put their products in front of the growing audiences for the event and never paid Fifa for the privilege.

The evolution of sports marketing was driven by a family with a flair for this type of product placement. Adi Dassler, shoemaker and founder of Adidas, first struck upon the power of athlete endorsements when he persuaded the great American sprinter Jesse Owens to wear spikes bearing the company’s distinctive three stripes at the 1936 Olympics, and supercharged sales of his sports footwear overnight.

A bitter family feud – which led brother Rudolf Dassler to create rival sportswear brand Puma – was the impetus for an increasingly aggressive battle to induce the world’s leading athletes, and increasingly footballers, to wear their sports equipment at international tournaments.

In the early days of the World Cup, players agreed to wear the warring brands’ boots without any expectation of receiving a fee, but as the commercial potential of their endorsements dawned on them, they increasingly asked for cash incentives.

The influence of the Adidas brand over international sport, and the World Cup in particular, was taken to new heights by Adi Dassler’s son, Horst, who developed a sophisticated system of patronage with the leaders of the largest sports federations. The development of the Intersoccer 4 marketing programme, which for the first time gathered Fifa’s sponsorship rights together and sold them to multinational brands, helped Dassler win the favour of incoming Fifa president João Havelange by funding his 1974 election pledge to expand the World Cup to 24 teams.

Dassler had the powerful friends, but it was his close acquaintance Patrick Nally and the West Nally sports and communications agency who came up with the concept of matching brands with sports events and packaging exclusive sponsorship rights.

“Credit where credit is due,” says former International Olympic Committee marketing director Michael Payne. “Patrick is the one that created the concept of rights packaging, of exclusivity. Some people say Peter Ueberroth created the model for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, but if anything, Peter was copying some of the model Patrick developed with the World Cup.”

In the 1970 and 1974 World Cups that immediately preceded the creation of the Intersoccer 4 programme, Nally says the unregulated sponsorship environment at the tournament was more akin to the Wild West.

“It was all about ‘flyposting’ and getting as many signs as you could into the camera shot. Each market had their own unique board selling ‘guru’ – nearly always a colourful character, and always of questionable ethics.”

But from 1978 onwards, and with the creation of Intersoccer 4, Fifa began to take control of the pitch-side advertising and prove the value of exposure at the World Cup to multinational brands.

Coca-Cola was persuaded of the power of sponsoring the tournament when it ran a competition calling on schoolchildren to submit paintings of the 1978 World Cup. Most of the entries that came back featured Coca-Cola branding along the side of the pitch. And with the drinks brand on board, the rest of the marketing programme would take care of itself.

As Nally would later put it: “Coca-Cola is one of the top companies in the world. Anything that Coca-Cola does has to be a success. And everybody follows Coke. If you can convince Coke to do something, then you are on your way.”


Host: Brazil – winner: Uruguay

There was barely any sponsorship or marketing activity at the 1950 World Cup, but Coca-Cola archivist Phil Mooney says the drinks brand first started advertising in stadiums during the fourth Fifa Men’s World Cup and the first tournament to be hosted in Brazil. At this stage the ‘sponsorship’ was on an informal, ad-hoc basis and a far cry from the exclusive marketing agreements that the company would strike with Fifa in the late 70s and which continue to this day.

Chaotic scenes as Fifa president Jules Rimet presents the World Cup trophy to Uruguayan captain Varella after they beat hosts Brazil in the final at the Maracana Stadium in Rio De Jainero. (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images).


Host: Switzerland – winner: West Germany

The first televised World Cup also secured Adidas its first genuine marketing coup. Ahead of the tournament Adi Dassler designed a boot with adjustable studs which allowed players to adapt to different pitch conditions and drew on his relationship with the West German coach, Sepp Herberger, to persuade the side to wear them rather than his brother Rudi’s Puma-branded boots.

In one of the first instances of World Cup product placement, it was claimed the boots gave the Germans better grip on the sodden surface of the Wankdorf Stadium than their opponents in the final – the Mighty Magyars (who had beaten them 8-3 in the group stages). The Germans put the advantage to good use as they came back from two goals down to win 3-2 in a match that was subsequently dubbed the ‘Miracle of Bern’.

Much was also made of the fact that the Adidas boots were lighter: weighed after the match, they tipped the scales at 700g compared to 1.5kg for the Hungarians’ conventional boots.


Host: Sweden – winner: Brazil

Before the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, Fifa put out a tender for the manufacture of the official match ball. To ensure objectivity, it solicited unbranded entries. One hundred and two unmarked footballs arrived in the post accompanied by a sealed envelope stating the company they were sent from. The winning ‘Top Star’ ball, from Swedish manufacturer Angelholm, was the first World Cup ball to have 24, stitched leather panels.


Host: Chile – winner: Brazil

Coca-Cola’s German division sponsored a highlight film of the 1962 World Cup in Chile for its workers. The film shows a Coca-Cola billboard outside the stadium which reads “Welcome to the World of Fútbol, 1962” and a Coca-Cola concession serving fans during halftime at one of the matches.


Host: England – winner: England

Marketing agencies might wince at the missed opportunity represented by England’s first and only victory in the 1966 World Cup, which took place against a backdrop free of pitch-side sponsorship or advertising. It did, however, feature the first mascot, and first piece of official merchandise sanctioned by the tournament organisers: World Cup Willie.

Twelve-year-old Leo Hoye, son of Reg Hoye, the man who designed the world cup mascot, World Cup Willie. Hoye modelled the mascot on his son. (Photo by John Pratt/Keystone Features/Getty Images).


Host: Mexico – winner: Brazil

Barbara Smit’s book: Sneaker Wars: The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sports tells how the two companies entered into a ‘Pelé pact’ on the eve of the 1970 tournament, agreeing not to sign the world’s greatest player of the time to avoid a costly bidding war.

The firms respected the pact right up to the point a disappointed Pelé asked Puma’s Brazilian rep, reporter Hans Henningsen, why he was the only member of the team left out of endorsement deals.

Spotting an opportunity too good to miss, Henningsen took matters into his own hands, ignored the pact, and sketched out a deal with the player.

Puma boss Armin Dassler agreed to the verbal deal negotiated by Henningsen, which promised Pelé $25,000 for the 1970 World Cup, a cut of Pelé-branded shoe sales and $100,000 for the next four years.

Adidas only learned of their subterfuge at the start of Brazil’s quarter-final with Peru, when the world’s best player bent down to tie his laces – allowing the TV camera to zoom in on his Puma-branded boots, as per the terms of his agreement with Henningsen.

At least Adidas branding appeared on the match ball that Pelé stroked so elegantly around the Estadio Jalisco in the ensuing match. 1970 was the first occasion the brand supplied the official match ball – although it is unclear if it paid for the right to do so at this stage – and it has supplied them in every tournament since. The Telstar was famous for the 32 black and white panels designed to make it more visible on black and white television coverage.

But Fifa had yet to take control of the tournament’s sponsorship rights – watch the colour footage of England’s match against Brazil to see how cluttered the pitch-side advertising had become.


Host: West Germany – winner: West Germany  

The West German organisers and the European Broadcasting Union, the alliance of European public-service broadcasters created a more co-ordinated sponsorship approach for the 1974 World Cup, striking a deal with the flyposting agencies to sell more targeted advertising.

Local agencies sold inventory for games featuring the host nation while their international equivalents sold pitch-side advertising specific to the other international teams. Fifa missed out as the three parties derived all of the commercial benefit and took advantage of the substantial television audiences for the event.

The 1974 World Cup match between Brazil and Yugoslavia played at the Waldstadion in Frankfurt, West Germany. The match ended in a 0-0 draw. (Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport).


Host: Argentina – winner: Argentina

A watershed moment in the history of sports sponsorship, from 1978 Fifa took control of its marketing rights and went from being an insignificant operation run from a small rented office in Zurich to the commercial organisation the world knows today.

Patrick Nally had to negotiate with the Argentinian military junta to bring the marketing rights and stadium operational rights for the tournament under Fifa’s control. In doing so, he had no idea that he was formulating the concept of marketing exclusivity around which most sports sponsorship deals are still structured to this day.

“Argentina and bringing all the rights back to Fifa was driven by my desire to protect Coca-Cola,” Nally tells SportBusiness. “We serviced clients, we didn’t look after the rights-holders back then because the rights-holders didn’t exist or didn’t know that they existed.”

Coca-Cola was persuaded to underwrite the stadium advertising contract with Fifa, which allowed the brand to retain substantial pitch-side inventory for its own use [six boards in every match], the franchise for the in-stadium sale of soft drinks, guaranteed television exposure for its Soccer Skills competition, world-wide promotional use of the tournament’s Gauchito mascot and symbol, local advertising opportunities, and ‘soft drinks’ product exclusivity.

Nally ensured the brand would never have to pay the guarantee, by creating a series of additional packages of pitch-side branding for companies like Canon, Philips, Gillette, KLM and Café de Brasil.

The flyposting ‘bandits’ were employed to sell ads targeted to specific games, but their days were numbered.

Official sponsors: Coca-Cola, Canon, Philips, Gillette, KLM and Café de Brasil.

Coca-Cola branding is visible behind the goal as Mario Kempes scores Argentina’s first goal in the 1978 final against Holland. (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images).


Host: Spain – winner: Italy

The Spanish hosts of the 1982 tournament demanded 45m Swiss Francs to hand over the marketing rights for the competition as the Argentinians had done, pleading that João Havelange’s vision of an expanded 24-team tournament would be more expensive to deliver.

“Because of the enormity of the extra money that was thrown down to me as a challenge, we basically had to come up with new approach,” says Nally.

After the 1978 World Cup he created the Intersoccer 4 package, which bundled World Cup sponsorship rights with other competitions like the Uefa European Championships, European Cup and Cup Winners Cup. For the first time at a World Cup, the flyposters were cut out and partners were offered exclusive ownership of specific product categories.

Coca-Cola returned as the cornerstone of the 1982 sponsorship programme, but Nally also took advantage of the Japanese export boom to strike deals with Canon, JVC, Fujifilm and Seiko.

After the tournament, Nally’s old partner Horst Dassler agreed a secret deal with Japanese advertising agency Dentsu to create the ISL agency, and used his influence in Fifa to seize control of the World Cup marketing contract away from his former partner.

Official sponsors: Canon, Coca-Cola, Fujifilm, Gillette, Iveco, JVC, Metaxa, RJ Reynolds, Seiko


Host: Mexico – winner: Argentina

Mexico ’86 was the second and last tournament in which Fifa partnered with a tobacco sponsor and was an early example of how the federation could override local law to the benefit of its partners.

RJ Reynolds exercised its first option to extend its 1982 sponsorship deal but when Colombia ceded its hosting rights to Mexico – due to concerns about the cost of the expanded tournament – Fifa ran into a Mexican law forbidding tobacco advertising.

Havelange persuaded the country to allow Fifa to honour its agreement, but might have regretted the decision when he was interrogated by the press about the example Fifa was setting for children after a huge yellow balloon advertising RJ Reynold’s Camel brand could be seen hovering above the Azteca stadium throughout the final.

“I’ve got a 24-team tournament to run,” he fired back. “I need all the money I can get from every sponsor.”

Ultimately, though, the criticism appeared to influence Fifa’s sponsorship strategy: after RJ Reynolds terminated its deal following the tournament, the governing body pledged to stop tobacco advertising at any of its events. It now has an agreement with the World Health Organization that the tournament will be tobacco-free.

Sponsors: Anheuser-Busch, Bata, Canon, Cinzano, Coca-Cola, Fujifilm, Gillette, JVC, Opel, Philips, RJ Reynolds, Seiko.

Camel pitchside branding is visible during the quarter-final match between England and Argentina. (Photo by Schlage/ullstein bild via Getty Images).


Host: Italy – winner: West Germany

Italian brands Alfa Romeo and Vini D’Italia became Fifa sponsors for Italia 90 while the Mars confectionery group also came on board to promote its Snickers brand.

Seiko and Opel dropped out of the marketing programme leaving Fifa with 10 sponsors overall, each paying an estimated £5m ($6.8m). In the United Kingdom, National Power became the first-ever sponsor of ITV’s World Cup coverage.

Official sponsors: Coca-Cola, Alfa Romeo, Anheuser-Busch, Canon, Fujifilm, Gillette, JVC, Philips, Snickers, Vini D’Italia.


Host: USA – winner: Brazil

Fifa had one eye on converting Americans to ‘soccer’ and another on the country’s lucrative sponsorship market. Choosing the US as host paid commercial dividends when US brands like McDonald’s and Mastercard began lengthy relationships with Fifa before the event.

European car brand Opel switched to parent company General Motors’ branding for American audiences during the tournament while established US brands like battery firm Energizer used the event to introduce European viewers to their products.

The sponsors were also critical to the World Cup appearing on television. ABC was only persuaded to bid for the rights after it secured assurances from Fifa’s sponsors that they would support its coverage.

The broadcaster had to find new ways to incorporate partner messages given the 45-minute halves of each match didn’t provide the same advertising opportunities as the US sports it was used to.

ABC and ESPN offered sponsors the chance to display their logos on the game clock in the corner of the screen while Spanish-language network Univision superimposed commercials over the bottom third of their coverage as play progressed.

Fifa received a lesson in US commercial know-how when the local organisers managed to carve out eight local product categories that they could sell for themselves.

“You had some savvy attorneys involved in World Cup ‘94, and as part of the negotiations with ISL at the time, the local organisers gained those eight categories,” says Gary Hopkins, author of Star-Spangled Soccer: The Selling, Marketing and Management of Soccer in the USA.

“The local marketing deals that they struck were worth about $750,000 to $1.5m each and they had about eight to 10 of those. That money went directly to the local organising committee and gave them about $12m.”

Advances in video-game technology also led to a new revenue stream for Fifa as Electronic Arts licensed the brand to create Fifa International Soccer.

Official sponsors: Canon, Coca-Cola, Energizer, Fujifilm, General Motors, Gillette, JVC, Mastercard, McDonald’s, Philips, Snickers.


Host: France – winner: France

Spotting the threat of challenger brands like Nike, Adidas formalised its relationship with Fifa and signed as an official partner and licensee. The association with the 1998 World Cup in France helped the brand to move from second to first place in the French sporting goods market, one of the top three in Europe.

Nike pulled off a marketing coup of its own when it signed a £400m sponsorship deal with the Brazilian national team in 1997 that would help it to ambush the 1998 event. An award-winning advert by Weiden & Kennedy, released in the lead-up to the tournament, showed the seleçao kicking a Nike football around the airport as they waited for their flight to France.

But Nike was later embroiled in accusations that it pressured Brazilian star Ronaldo to play in the final despite reports he had a fit in the hours leading up to the match.

Fifa had a growing appreciation of the value of its video-game rights, and charged Electronic Arts an increased sum to license its logo for Fifa: Road to World Cup 98. David Beckham adorned the front cover of the game in an early example of the player’s marketing appeal.

Official sponsors: Adidas, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Canon, Fujifilm, Gillette, JVC, Mastercard, McDonald’s, Opel, Philips, Snickers.


Host: Japan & South Korea – winner: Brazil

ISL – which had handled Fifa’s marketing rights for 19 years since the Dassler/Nally split – collapsed ahead of the tournament, leading to a loss of faith in the principle of selling commercial rights via agencies. Many rights-holders, including Fifa, took their marketing rights in-house.

Questions about the integrity of some of the deals struck by the agency, and the way it secured influence at Fifa, haunt the organisation to this day.

But it had little outward impact on the tournament, which had 15 partners – the most for a World Cup.

As the internet revolution dawned, Yahoo! sponsored the competition for the first time. South Korean car brand Hyundai signed on and never left.

Fifa responded to concerns about the extent of corporate involvement in the World Cup by allocating fewer tickets to sponsors. It claimed that just 800 seats would be allocated to VIP, hospitality and guest invitations – half of the number reserved for this purpose in 1998.

Official sponsors: Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, Sony, Anheuser-Busch, Avaya, Fujifilm, Gillette, JVC, Korea Telekom/NTT, Mastercard, McDonald’s, Philips, Toshiba, Yahoo.


Host: Germany – winner: Italy

There were some awkward moments for Fifa at the 2006 World Cup as it tried to protect the exclusive marketing rights of its beer sponsor Anheuser-Busch.

The company had signed its deal before Germany was chosen as the host for the 2006 tournament and might well have preferred the tournament to be held elsewhere. Because of a copyright dispute with the Czech Budweiser Budvar brewery, its beer was forbidden from being sold under the Budweiser brand in the country. The brewer had to brand itself as ‘Anheuser Busch Bud’ to activate its pouring rights during the competition.

To protect its partner, Fifa also had to ask 1,000 Dutch fans to remove their trousers as they entered the stadium for a first-round match between the Netherlands and the Ivory Coast because they carried branding for a Dutch brewery.

The tournament bore witness to increasingly large-scale activations from official sponsors. Coca-Cola ran the first Fifa World Cup Trophy Tour, visiting 31 countries over three months. Hyundai supplied team buses for each of the thirty-two finalists and hosted fans in giant parks in various cities. Adidas rolled out a €20m marketing campaign for its home tournament, which included building a scaled-down version of Berlin’s Olympia Stadium capable of housing up to 10,000 people.

Airline Emirates began a relationship with Fifa that would span the three tournaments from 2006 to 2014.

Official sponsors: Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Hyundai, Sony, Anheuser Busch, Avaya, Continental, Deutsche Telekom, Fujifilm, Gillette, Mastercard, McDonald’s, Philips, Toshiba, Yahoo!

Football fans watch the 2006 World Cup final between Italy and France at the Adidas World of Football in Berlin. (Photo by Getty Images for Adidas)


Host: South Africa – winner: Spain

Fifa adapted its sponsorship packages ahead of the first African World Cup. The new packages allowed for six ‘Fifa Partners’ who would be entitled to associate with a broad range of Fifa events; six to eight ‘Fifa World Cup Sponsors’ who were allowed to activate around each World Cup and the Confederations Cup, and four to six ‘National Supporters’.

But the governing body landed itself with legal problems when it signed Visa International as one of the new top-tier Fifa Partners. Rival Mastercard sued the governing body, claiming it had the right of first refusal on future sponsorship of the World Cup after its contract expired in 2006. It only agreed to drop its legal fight after a $90m settlement was agreed with the federation.

Fifa secured its first African partner when South African telco MTN Group signed as a Fifa World Cup Sponsor. Satyam, a global consulting and information technology services provider, signed at the same tier, becoming Fifa’s first Indian partner.

Fifa Partners: Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Hyundai-Kia, Sony, Visa.
Fifa World Cup Sponsors: Anheuser Busch, Castrol, Continental, McDonald’s, MTN, Satyam.


Host Brazil – winner: Germany

Fifa’s sponsors directed more of their energies towards digital activations and developing content for social media channels at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Adidas said it’s digital marketing budget for the 2014 event surpassed its television advertising spend for the first time – an investment that paid off when the company added almost 6m followers across the major social media platforms, the most for any sports brand.

Coca-Cola became the presenting partner for an online edition of the Panini sticker album on the website – the second time fans could collect and trade the stickers virtually.

Yingli Solar became Fifa’s first renewable energy provider and the first Chinese company to sponsor the World Cup. It activated by powering the Arena Pernambuco and Estádio Maracanã stadiums with solar energy. Coca-Cola offered fans to the chance to recycle plastic bottles so that they could be turned into seats in some of the stadiums.

Fifa encouraged the Brazilian government to overlook public safety concerns and overturn a ban on serving alcohol in stadiums, to preserve Anheuser-Busch’s pouring rights. It capitalised on the opportunity by selling more than three million units of Budweiser at stadium concessions.

Fifa Partners: Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Hyundai-Kia, Sony, Visa.

Fifa World Cup Sponsors: Anheuser Busch, Castrol, Continental, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, Oi, Seara, Yingli Solar.

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