Blatter faces backlash from sponsors over Fifa scandal

Governing body earned an estimated £1bn in sponsorship from 2006 to 2010 in deals with a range of multinational brands
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The Independent Football

Sepp Blatter faced a revolt of the global brands which pour £1bn into Fifa's coffers after football's most valuable sponsors demanded action to resolve the corruption scandal which has tarnished the game's image.

Coca-Cola, Visa, BP, Adidas and Emirates airlines formed an unprecedented alliance of brands determined to distance themselves from the allegations, and to use their corporate muscle to force change upon a governing body which has ignored pleas for reform from national associations and governments.

Fifa earned an estimated $1.6bn (£1bn) in sponsorship between 2006 and 2010 by signing long-term, rolling deals with a range of multinational brands. Mr Blatter, the Fifa president, describes the sponsors as part of Fifa's "football family".

Analysts said that Mr Blatter could not brush aside statements of concern issued by four of the body's "big six" official partners, which pay up to £25m a year for exclusive sponsorship and marketing rights to tournaments, including the World Cup.

As angry fans launched social media campaigns urging customers to boycott Visa and Coca-Cola whilst they remain Fifa sponsors, the leading commercial partners moved to distance themselves from the scandal.

Emirates said it was "disappointed" with the bribery allegations. Visa said the current situation was "clearly not good for the game" and called upon Fifa to "take all necessary steps to resolve the concerns that have been raised".

BP, which owns Castrol, one of six second-tier World Cup sponsors, which pay up to £15m a year to Fifa, also expressed concern. "Castrol is a supporter of clean and fair football," said a spokesman. "We are watching the current situation very closely and expect Fifa to resolve these issues in a right and proper manner."

A spokesman for Adidas, a Fifa sponsor for 30 years, said that "the negative tenor of the public debate around Fifa at the moment is neither good for football nor for Fifa and its partners."

Coca-Cola called the "allegations distressing and bad for the sport", and urged Fifa to "resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner".

Sponsorship experts said it was highly unusual for the sponsors, multibillion-dollar global entities which prefer to avoid controversy, to get involved in the row. Karen Earl, chairwoman of the European Sponsorship Association, said: "Blatter has to take notice of the sponsors. They are an important part of the 'football family' which he said would need to resolve this situation." Ms Earl thought it unlikely that the sponsors would cut their ties with Fifa though. "They are saying 'We want to support football but you are the governing body and you need to get your house in order'," she said.

Tony Garner, director of the sports marketing firm Viva Sport, said: "Sponsors are getting edgy. If Fifa isn't concerned about the reputation of the sport, it may well be interested in the money machine grinding to a halt. When that happens it may force Blatter and Co to come up with a strategy that addresses the big issue."

Simon Rines, a sports sponsorship analyst, said: "Can Blatter defy the people who provide half your income? If one or two sponsors start to pull out it would leave a black hole in the Fifa accounts. These partners have made a huge investment in Fifa. They will be very sensitive to any adverse publicity rubbing off on their brands."

The South Korean-based motor giant Hyundai-Kia recently agreed a £170m eight-year deal, guaranteeing its top-tier status as Fifa's "official automotive partner". The company declined to comment on the affair.

Sony, another Fifa partner, which signed a £185m deal, said it did not wish to become involved "at this point in time". McDonald's, another World Cup sponsor, said it "remained focused" on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.