The video assistant referee (VAR) is becoming standard since being introduced at last year’s FIFA World Cup last year, and now football associations are exploring how they might make some extra cash off these new breaks in the game.

VAR divides opinion. For many, the search for the clear and obvious errors in a human referee’s judgement is an artificial, pencil-pushing destruction of the game’s soul. Witness, for instance, the handball decision against PSG’s Presnel Kimpembe. Clear and obvious – really? For others, meanwhile, often others who have reason to celebrate decisions, justice is more often done.

The debate among fans, referees, players, clubs, and pundits rages on with all the sound and fury expected, but some companies have come to FIFA with an innovative offer: sponsoring VAR breaks, the Financial Times reports.

According to the publication, FIFA, the organisation responsible for the World Cup, has been approached directly by a handful of companies looking to get their brands in on the action. La Liga, Spain’s top-flight league, which implemented VAR at the beginning of this season, is also said to be considering its commercial opportunities; the English Premier League, meanwhile, said its focus is on getting the system operating well when it is introduced next season. 

By some estimates, VAR appeared on screen during the 2018 FIFA World Cup for a total of 27 minutes during the competition. High-intensity moments, these appear in the middle of the game (all other ads appear either on the sidelines or on player’s shirts). But those 27 minutes could have translated into serious money, according to the sports marketing consultant Tim Crow, who spoke to the FT. A minute of semi-final airtime during a big tournament can go for up to £600,000. “For a sponsor, that is a dream come true.”

For the competitions, it could be a serious cash cow. In other sports, it is already quite a regular occurrence. However, those sports – including cricket and American football – have tended to be far less fluid than football.

Add to this the fact that VAR is still in its very early days. FIFA has said as much, having apparently turned down opportunities to place commercial messaging as it continues to focus on making the system work.

Naturally, if there is an opportunity to sponsor anywhere in a major game, most brands would want to take it. However, there are significant indications that a situation can be too emotional for ads to be effective. If you have watched a VAR decision happening and the fate of your team hangs in the balance, the pause in the game, the discomfort and uncertainty could be a risky area to play.

Sourced from BT Sport, Financial Times, WARC