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29 November 2022
A controversial World Cup as a brand backdrop
Going into the 2022 Qatar World Cup, there were many unknowns – about the alcohol, the heat, human rights abuses and institutional intolerance – and these have made it a complicated picture for brands.
Broadcasters stay strong
Now firmly into the tournament’s second week, both brands and the channels that broadcast the competition are starting to see the effects of the most controversial World Cup since… the last one.
The Hollywood Reporter notes that coverage of the tournament on Fox Sports and Telemundo (English and Spanish language respectively) suggests that the negative backdrop to the tournament hasn't dampened interest in the US. Viewership of the opening game (a routine 2-0 win for Ecuador over hosts Qatar) was up on 2018:
Fox Sports up 78%, peaking at 3.5 million.
Telemundo up 164% with a peak of 1.7 million.
The USA’s opener – a 1-1 against mighty Wales – had 8.3 million viewers, while UK broadcaster ITV racked up 13 million viewers for Wales' first outing in a World Cup since 1958.
Generally, US broadcasters have avoided covering the human rights angle of the story. In the UK, however, joint broadcasters BBC and ITV have covered difficult topics in their news coverage.
Given it is the country’s national sport – and two of its nations are competing – the knotty politics of the tournament don’t appear to have dampened viewers’ enthusiasm.
The brand view
Despite the controversy, brands around the world have considered the World Cup too big to avoid.
Some, such as beer brand BrewDog, attempted an anti-sponsorship campaign, only to be accused of hypocrisy when observers noted that the company was still planning to show World Cup games in its bars.
For giants Nike and Adidas, which together provide the kits and/or boots for most of the teams, a presence is part and parcel of their significant involvement in football.
Aside from the on-field presence, the Athletic explores the similarity of both brands’ digitally inflected campaigns:
Adidas features its greatest asset in an “impossible rondo”, a kickabout between present-day Lionel Messi and four younger versions of himself, one for each World Cup he has played in.
Nike, meanwhile, deploys its own greatest living footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo, to play other contenders for the title of GOAT (Greats Of All Time) in “the Footballverse”.
Neither campaign makes mention of the location of the World Cup, relying instead on timing and reference. But what’s really interesting is what they say about the proximity of football and gaming, not necessarily as a channel, but as a well of culture and many people’s experience of the modern game.
Sourced from THR, The Athletic, Big Hospitality, Bloomberg, WARC