Fifa's Le Floc'h: I'm surprised by criticism of so many Chinese sponsors
Philippe Le Floc’h, Fifa's chief commercial officer, has played down the significance of the federation having signed up a host of Chinese sponsors in order to boost a sponsorship programme that took a hit from various corruption scandals that engulfed soccer's world governing body.
No fewer than seven Chinese sponsors have signed sponsorship deals at varying levels in the 2015-18 cycle, a run that started with Wanda, the multinational conglomerate that owns the Infront agency, coming on board as a top-tier 'Fifa Partner' in March 2016.
Smartphone manufacturer Vivo, consumer electronics company Hisense and dairy products company Mengniu have all joined as second-tier 'World Cup Sponsors', while deals have also been signed with third-tier ‘Regional Supporters’ in Yadea (electric vehicles), Luci (a technology and entertainment experience company) and Diking (men’s clothing).
Speaking ahead of today’s World Cup opener between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia, Le Floc’h told L’Equipe: “We had a commercial structure mainly based on European or North American companies. It was an anachronism.
“An extraordinary passion has been created in China, in southeast Asia, so we have to be everywhere. I am surprised that people say to us, ‘You have Chinese sponsors, it’s not as good.' I do not see why.
“Honestly, the passport of our partners does not interest me at all. And for the people who would have you believe that it’s easier to have Chinese partners than western ones, go and negotiate with the Chinese!”
A sponsorship structure overhaul was announced in 2013 (and to be put in place for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments) as then marketing director Thierry Weil opted for a system of up to eight top-tier Fifa Partners, up to eight second-tier World Cup Sponsors and a maximum of 20 Regional Supporters split into different territories.
However, the Zurich-based federation has since lost Sony, Emirates, Castrol, Continental and Johnson & Johnson as sponsors as it felt the commercial effect of well publicised tales of corruption that went up to the highest level of Fifa.
Asked to assess the success of the sponsorship programme for this year’s World Cup, Le Floc’h said: “The results are extremely positive at an accounting level. We exceeded the budgetary objectives which were not easy to achieve when we arrived…
He added: "What happened with Fifa happened and there were lots of things to do such as the restructuring of the marketing and sales department and restoring a certain confidence.”
At the Fifa congress in Moscow yesterday it was announced that sponsorship deals had generated $200 million more than the $1.45 billion projected for the 2015-18 cycle, largely because of the new contracts with Chinese companies.
Having only filled just over half of the maximum of 36 sponsorships, Le Floc’h admitted that “we could have done better with more time” but insisted that the “objective has been fulfilled.”
He continued: “We had a year and a half to do a job that should have taken four years. We were late on a lot of programmes. So, in proportion, it’s not bad. It will be much more comfortable for 2022 [in Qatar].”
In addition to Wanda, Fifa’s top-tier sponsors are Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai-Kia, Visa and Gazprom, while the five World Cup Sponsors also include McDonald’s and Budweiser (both in deals running until 2022).
Frank Pons, head of the OIMS sports research group at Laval University in Canada, told L’Equipe: “Fifa has promised many times that it will change. This will is real but it has not been sufficiently highlighted… and even if heads have fallen, for many people it’s still the same thing. Not to mention that Russia is not the best place to send out a signal.”
He added: “Companies like McDonald’s or Coke probably don’t want to be very present when Fifa holds a press conference between World Cup cycles, but upon the arrival of the World Cup, the image of which is much less tainted than Fifa’s, they all want to be there.”
Pons claimed that the risk of being associated with the “problematic image of Fifa” is much less for Chinese brands than for a western brand already very well established worldwide, given that “most are not well known outside of China and want to make a name for themselves very quickly on the global stage.”