Approaching the final whistle: The World Cup PR winners and losers so far

As with so many major sporting events, the period immediately beforehand sees naysayers making a last ditch play for column centimetres.

Neymar: Brazil's talisman was sorely missed last night (Credit: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Neymar: Brazil's talisman was sorely missed last night (Credit: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

Doom-imbued prophesies and stories abound, detailing impending dreadfulness and listing the rife inherent evil / tedium / misplaced spending in football, athletics, cycling etc etc…then things get under way and those of us who like sport usually have a rather enjoyable few weeks. 

Let’s start at the end and, sadly, the carnival is over for Brazil, so let’s just hope those predicting a riot have got it wrong. Moving on, the difference this time was that aside from the normal stories forecasting ill-preparedness and safety issues, it was alleged that Qatar secured its hosting rights for 2022 based on cash for votes. No score. Some suggested the timing of the story made things uncomfortable for FIFA but arguably it was pretty good from its point of view – after so much football, how many of us even remember the media furore of less than a month ago? Doubtless the issue will come up again but the heat has been taken out of the story.

On pitch there were stories that grabbed the headlines for the wrong reasons; Robben’s diving admissions did him no favours but are unlikely to have harmed him given how the Netherlands have progressed in the final stages; Neymar’s back injury was scandalous but the public’s attention moved on; ‘Gnasher’ Suarez, on other hand, may have reaped a £63m contract with Barcelona but as a brand ambassador, he will doubtless find he is toxic for quite some time. While his latest gnaw prompted some light-hearted creatives from our advertising colleagues, he is a repeat offender who offered the shoddiest of apologies that arguably did more harm than good. 888Poker dropped him immediately and his contract with adidas hangs in the balance.

Off the field there has been some pretty cheeky – and very effective – activity. Adidas and Nike were always set to go head on; initially adidas looked the favourite as it had the benefit of official tournament sponsor status but it looks like Nike has pinched its lunch. Not only did Nike’s ‘Risk Everything’ campaign thrash adidas ‘All in or Nothing’ across social media, Nike has deals with more players and teams than its rivals, thereby ensuring more ad hoc image exposure in sports coverage. In fact Nike’s brand’s presence has been so extensive that 30 per cent of UK and US consumers polled, along with 40 per cent of Brazilians, believe, wrongly, it is an official sponsor. 

There have been rumblings as to FIFA’s ability to protect its rights (even though it went to the lengths of taping over hand dryer brand names in stadia toilets) and official sponsor Sony would also have every right to feel frustrated. Having invested $307m in 2007 for a seven-year deal, the brand must have hoped to lock down exclusivity completely. Clearly no one banked on Beats by Dr Dre. The brand’s ‘The Game Before the Game’ ad racked up 22 million YouTube views and while Beats avoided all direct reference to the World Cup, its intentions were clear. Insult was added to injury for Sony when Brazilian forward Neymar walked into a press conference wearing the banned headphones, not least as Sony was reported to have sent all 32 teams a free set.

Last night’s result made the World Cup Twitter’s most discussed sporting event ever, with 35.6 million tweets. Superbowl 48 had 24.9 million. So with numbers in mind, as the 32-day tournament draws to a close, the 736 players go home, the 22 sponsors tally their ROI and the organisers trouser a reported £2.3bn, we know that we have it all to look forward to again in 2018.

Rebecca Hopkins is founder of sports PR agency ENS.

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