The FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 kicked off this month, eagerly anticipated worldwide. 29% of UK adults agreed it’s one of three top TV events this year, including half of UK men (source: QT May 2018).

The 2014 tournament reached 3.2 billion people, the final reaching over a billion (source: FIFA). This year is expected to do the same. ITV expect to reach 76% of the UK population this time around. Helpfully, 7.4 million watched their coverage of Portugal vs. Spain last week (source: TellyMix).

But while initial audience figures seem pretty buoyant, FIFA’s advertising challenges haven’t been.

FIFA faces a sponsorship revenue shortfall compared to four years ago, with revenues forecasted to reach $1,450m (£1,085m) for 2018, down significantly on the $1,629m (£1,214m) generated from the 2014 World Cup.

This is concerning given a large proportion of FIFA’s sponsorship revenues comes from World Cup tournaments. Nielsen data suggests that in 2014, total other event income generated a meagre $49m (£37m) in comparison.

The situation was largely brought about by high profile brands stepping away from FIFA, namely Johnson & Johnson, Castrol and Continental in the wake of the corruption scandal which hit FIFA in 2015 and has rung in the ears of the organisation to date. Significant investment from Chinese brands has lent itself to propping up revenues this round, and it is hoped that investment from Qatar and the Middle East will reverse FIFA’s fortunes in 2022.

The current predicament, however, offers an interesting paradox to concerned advertisers. With the assumed climate of disassociation with the FIFA brand, and the unique and unquestionable audience draw of the World Cup, how can advertisers strike the right note whilst tapping into the enormous potential audience?

Ken Robertson, former Advertising Director at Paddy Power offered a solution via The Drum, suggesting that inroads can be made using “more sophisticated communications”, citing Paddy Power’s success with ambush marketing focused not only on football, but the wider context surrounding tournaments. “You can’t operate detached from the political, the lines are blurry at the moment. The narrative around political stability, homophobia and more. It cannot just be football. No way.”

Advertisers should approach with caution though, as the bookmaker has also got into hot water for utilising such tactics. It seems then that although the rewards can be huge, a successful strategy for advertisers is as unpredictable as the drama they mean to represent.

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