Former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner, who was one of 14 people indicted in a massive bribery scandal, vowed to reveal new evidence against the world soccer’s governing body and its embattled president, Sepp Blatter. It’s just the latest blow to a brand in crisis.
Right now FIFA is engaged in a high-stakes “win or go home” game of penalty kicks, with the sponsors who line their pockets with billions of dollars on the offensive side of the shootout getting ready for their kicks, while its own embattled brand is in goal, gearing up to block and deflect anything that comes its way. Meanwhile, a global consumer audience that has celebrated the game for generations is blowing the whistle and pointing to the penalty spot, its trust on the line.
While the mission is critical for FIFA, the good news is that the goalkeeper is always in control. No matter how powerful or precise the kick from the spot, a keeper with great instincts and pre-emptive qualities will always dictate the score.
With FIFA finding itself in the depths of an unprecedented crisis, let’s look at some simple solutions that will help the brand come out on top and ensure it’s on the winning side of the shootout:
Put the Ball in the Hands of Trusted Leaders: In a pressure cooker penalty shootout with the entire world watching and the hopes of your national team riding on the foot (or hands) of one player, you always put your trust in someone who can handle the situation with poise and composure. FIFA’s approach to building out its leadership team in the aftermath of Blatter’s resignation should be no different. Whether or not he was complicit in the scandal, the mass perception is that Blatter has breached the trust of billions of consumers and customers across the world. In order to regain trust from the masses, FIFA must look to align itself with brand ambassadors that are synonymous with integrity and trust. Being a global game and one of the most powerful brands in the world, there shouldn’t be a shortage of candidates, whether former footballers who have gone on to achieve greater things off the pitch, or someone in the corporate world.
Transparency in Governance: the beauty of a penalty kick shootout is that it unfolds before the eyes of the world, completely uninterrupted and without any question about the outcome. If FIFA has learned one thing from this scandal it should be that it needs to provide a similar level of transparency into its governance process. Keeping customers completely in the dark on its selection and governance process for critical decisions—including World Cup host selection, sponsorship bids, and such—has only perpetuated the notion that corruption and backroom dealings are going on at the highest levels. There’s a completely transparent and objective system of checks and balances for the sporting part of all of FIFA’s competitions that have been effective for decades; e.g. how squads qualify for the World Cup and continental competitions and how countries are ranked according to the FIFA co-efficient. These same procedures should be applied to the business side of FIFA’s dealings, and then the organization will slowly be able to regain the trust of consumers by providing transparency and objectiveness into critical business decisions that have been plagued by ambiguity for ages.
Set Your Lineup According to the Exposure Areas: when a manager sets out to arrange the lineup for a crucial penalty shootout, the first area he addresses is the “exposure zone.” He asks himself, “Where is my squad most exposed?” “Which penalty kick takers are weak in certain areas?” and so on. And then he manages around those weaknesses. While the alleged FIFA corruption has tentacles that spread across the world, the root of the problem stems from its dealings in the United States, South America and most of the territories that are governed by CONCACAF. Just like treating any physical wound, FIFA should start at the root of the cancer, making a major push to raise visibility and trust among consumers in these areas. Open forum discussions with fans, messaging campaigns and community events that show a commitment on FIFA’s behalf to connecting with fans that previously hasn’t existed would be a good starting point.
Leverage the Cup: Let’s not forget there is a shiny, gold prize with dollar signs at the end of the penalty shootout. One major advantage that FIFA has over other international brands and major global organizations is the World Cup. FIFA is sitting on an asset that has conjured up images of positive memories, passion and emotion among consumers across the world for generations. FIFA should leverage this and use the World Cup as one of its primary assets to regain trust from consumers. With the 2018 World Cup promotional campaign soon to be underway, FIFA should use that as an opportunity to integrate messages and values that speak to the primary issues of its recent scandal in its overall marketing efforts, e.g. trust, leadership and universal friendship. Rather than be forced to create an entirely independent messaging campaign, FIFA can seamlessly integrate many of its crisis messages into a platform that already exists and is inherently associated with positive values.
Matt Rizzetta is CEO of North 6th Agency, a brand communications agency based in New York City and San Francisco.