Sponsorship of the World Cup is a big deal. Really, it’s lots of big deals between companies and teams worth a lot of money. This year has been unique – sponsorship revenue fell for the first time, and there was an influx of Chinese sponsors after western firms looked to disassociate themselves from corruption issues surrounding FIFA. As the World Cup reaches its final stages, we’ve taken a closer look at the major World Cup sponsors of this year’s semi-finalists.
First, a few words about sponsorship. Every World Cup team has a sponsor who manufactures their uniform and whose logo is displayed on the players’ jerseys and shorts. Other major sponsors have access to players or team branding for use in advertising. Some companies sponsor the whole tournament, but don’t necessarily have access to individual team branding. For example, although Adidas is an official partner of the World Cup, they only manufacture the kits of 12 out of the 32 competing teams. Sponsorship at the World Cup differs from club soccer because, unlike clubs, nations cannot place a sponsor on the midriff of their jerseys. This means that team sponsors use other channels to publicize their support, such as TV ads, sponsored clothing for players or, as in the case of Lucozade Sport, by having their product consumed by players during matches.
Semi-final #1 – France vs. Belgium
The first of the two semi-finals was France vs. Belgium. The stage was the iconic city of St Petersburg, in the slightly less iconic St Petersburg stadium. France, the victor of this semi-final, has the higher international profile of the two countries So it’s intriguing to see that three out of five of the team’s primary World Cup sponsors are French companies. France does, however, have a few international sponsors with some interesting ties. Volkswagen, one of the team’s foreign sponsors, is part-owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, which is in turn owned by the Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup. France is the favorite to win the final against Croatia. With Crédit Agricole bank-rolling the team and Électricité de France energizing it, you’d be a fool not to bet on France to win. Conveniently, their state-run betting organization, PMU, is also a French team World Cup Sponsor.
In stark contrast, only one out of Belgium’s six top tier World Cup sponsors is Belgian – BESIX Group. Perhaps the fact that Belgium only has a population of around 11.6 million means that sponsors are more likely to see the potential of the team for international branding as opposed to domestic. This year’s team was particularly attractive, as it has been considered the best Belgium team ever, to the point of being dubbed ‘The Golden Generation.’
The imagery associated with Belgium – a previously unsuccessful team which now has global superstars like Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne – is something sponsors are eager to harness. Notably, the Belgium team sponsor ING conducted a study to determine the value of Belgium’s team, and highlighted that it is one of only five nations with 2 players valued at over €100 million. High-value players tend to be more popular among fans, and so are favorable to sponsors who are trying to convey their message to the very same fans. Using Path Finder, we also managed to uncover an important connection between two of the Belgian sponsors. Luc Alfons Cornil Vandewalle, board member of BESIX Group, is the former chairman of ING.
Fascinatingly, Nike’s 2011-2018 kit sponsorship deal with France is worth €42.6 million per year, while the equivalent deal Belgium has with Adidas is reportedly only worth €1.8 million per year. These prices either reflect the huge value of the French team or simply show that Belgium got a bad deal. After France’s 1-0 victory over Belgium, it seems that the French companies were proven to have backed the right team, However, the strong over performance of both teams has provided many sponsorship opportunities on both sides.
Semi-final #2 – England vs. Croatia
The second semi-final match was between England and Croatia, with the Croatians coming out on top. Although they share the fact that neither team were expected to make it to the semi-finals, they fundamentally differ in their approaches to sponsorship. England seem to have taken the ‘machine-gun’ approach, as they have twice as many key World Cup sponsors as the next most sponsored semi-finalist, Belgium. Of the four remaining teams, England is the only team to have major food- and beverage-related sponsors, including a chocolate company (Mars), two supermarkets (Marks & Spencer and Lidl) and a beer company (Carlsberg). The UK has the highest obesity rates in Western Europe, so perhaps the orientation of Team England’s sponsors should not come as a surprise.
Croatian sponsorship could not be more different to that of England. Outside of their kit sponsor, Nike, the Croats have an exclusive sponsorship deal with German clothing brand Joop!. Since the Croatian team has the fewest global superstars, it is unclear whether this was a gamble by Joop!, or reflective of their now-vindicated belief in the dynamic midfield trio of Modrić, Kovačić and Rakitić, who have been playing particularly well so far. Either way, the fact that Croatia has risen so far above expectations provides much value for while the England sponsors are not as distinctive in their support of the team. It is also worth noting that the last time England reached a World Cup semi-final in 1990, the state of Croatia did not exist. The final gives them a great opportunity to put themselves on the soccer map forever.
The RelSci platform reveals connections between some of the semi-final sponsors. For example, we uncovered a relationship between English sponsor Mars and Belgian sponsor PwC. PwC advised Mars them on their purchase of Spillers Speciality Feeds. Furthermore, the CEO of French sponsor Volkswagen, Herbert Diess, used to be head of research and development at BMW, which sponsors the Belgium team.
The World Cup Final will be between France and Croatia. The sponsors of both teams will be vying for their team to be victorious. Joop! will hope that Croatia wins in style, whilst Volkswagen will hope that France can drive on to victory. Whatever one might think about the different teams and their sponsors, be sure to watch out for the Croatian players arriving at the stadium and with some delightful pocket handkerchiefs for the final.
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