Digiday: The FIFA guide to bungling a brand crisis

Posted 1 JuneNewsNo Comments

The soccer world’s governing authority, FIFA, is on major time-out right now. Last week the FBI arrested 14 FIFA officials and affiliates on charges including wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering.

FIFA — and its officials — have responded in all the wrong ways. According to Brandwatch, there have been over 2.5 times as many negative mentions as positive about FIFA on Twitter since the corruption news broke. Some of the terms that evoke negative sentiment are “Blatter” (referring to FIFA president Sepp Blatter) and “corruption,” Brandwatch found.

“The recent events could have been embraced by the organization and even seen has a good thing if FIFA used it as a a spur to put their house in order,” said Judith Carr-Rodriguez, president and founding partner of Figliulo & Partners. “But it doesn’t seem this will be the case, and major sponsors from Coca-Cola to McDonalds should be questioning their decisions to continue their support. There can be no worse role model for young people than FIFA.”

The crisis is so endemic that FIFA is being likened to a Mafia-run drug cartel. Here, then, is how not to handle a brand disaster — informed by what FIFA has done since the group arrest at the Hotel Baur au Lac in Zürich last week:

Don’t respond when a popular late night host skewers your internal machinery
The damning charges against FIFA may have only just been brought, but furor over the brand was rising ever since last summer, when the host of “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver, devoted an entire segment of his HBO show outlining everything wrong with the organization — from how it was razing Brazilian favelas to make way for stadiums, to how it was operating on a tax-exempt status that essentially robs World Cup-hosting companies. This was the first time many Americans were hearing about how deeply problematic the organization is — and the first of many blows for the brand. In response, FIFA was silent.

Instead, FIFA should have leveraged one of its biggest assets — the World Cup itself — which was on display all summer, said Matt Rizzetta, the CEO of public relations agency N6A. “FIFA is sitting on an asset that has conjured up images of positive memories, passion and emotion among consumers across the world for generations,” he pointed out.

Don’t do anything when your biggest sponsors rap you on the knuckles
Some of World Cup 2018’s biggest sponsors, like Visa and Coca-Cola have publicly come out and said that if FIFA doesn’t change how it operates, they will consider pulling their support. The sponsors are also feeling the heat of allegations of widespread human rights abuses by FIFA in Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup. FIFA has chosen to not directly respond to sponsor pressure — and this, during a time when official sponsorships may be falling by the wayside, anyway, as more brands choose to go with social activations around the game instead of buying official sponsor slots.

“If FIFA gets complacent and doesn’t implement an approach to managing sponsor relationships, valuable sponsorship revenues could be at risk over the long run,” said Rizzetta. FIFA’s six official sponsors spent about $190 million in 2014. About 90 percent of the brand’s income comes from sponsorships.

Quote an Onion article to defend yourself
Satirical news site the Onion weighed in on the controversy, announcing that the U.S. would be hosting a “World Cup” starting that very afternoon, the joke being that FIFA, trying to smooth over things, was letting the States host the tournament. Ex-FIFA vice president Jack Warner, who was arrested on corruption charges last week, defended himself using the article: In a video, held up a printout of the article, saying that the entire investigation has stemmed from sour grapes from the U.S. because it didn’t win the bid to host the Cup.

If one of your top officials is implicated, don’t fire him
Re-elect him instead. FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who was facing widespread calls for his resignation (from U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and UEFA president Michael Platini), was instead re-elected to the top job last week. In a press conference, he vowed to change things around.

“If this was the corporate world, and not FIFA-land – the CEO would be held accountable with his resignation and shareholders would be demanding a thorough and transparent review of what and how a multi-national organisation conducts business,” Chris Nurko, global chairman of Futurebrand, wrote in a post highlighting how diffident the authority was about the crisis.

“Whether or not he’s been complicit in the scandal, the mass perception is that FIFA President Sepp Blatter has breached the trust of FIFA’s billions of consumers and customers across the world,” said Rizzetta. The solution is to get rid of him — and there shouldn’t be a shortage of candidates, he said.

If your governance is called into question, become even less transparent
For years, many things about FIFA’s internal workings have been enshrouded in mystery: From the bid process (one of the major issues in the current scandal) to the extremely complicated ranking systems, FIFA has chosen to keep customers entirely in the dark as it comes to critical decisions. This scandal hasn’t changed anything.

“There’s an 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,” said Rizzetta.”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 their consumers by providing transparency and objectiveness into their critical business decisions that have been plagued by ambiguity for ages.”

“We all know rot starts from the head,” said Carr-Rodriguez.

 

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