The cliché goes: there is no such thing as negative publicity. Yes, FIFA has rightly received tremendous backlash from multiple scandals, which ultimately led to President Sepp Blatter’s resignation. Blatter ran arguably the world’s most powerful sports organization for 17 years and has been involved with FIFA since 1975. However, despite the shocking news, FIFA should undoubtedly recover from the entire fiasco. Soccer remains the undisputed most popular sport in the world and as long as the sport’s mega-stars, like Lionel Messi, Crístiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Jamès Rodríguez among others – participate in FIFA-related events, this organization will hardly suffer.
Some of the scandals, which included alleged bribery of over $100 million spanning multiple decades, involved unjustly awarding South Africa the 2010 World Cup and then Qatar the 2022 World Cup. The US Government, led by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, conducted a thorough investigation into the entire FIFA organization and ultimately indicted 14 people – 9 soccer officials, 4 sports marketing executives, and 1 broadcast media member.
Despite these allegations, Blatter decisively won the re-election for president by 60 votes over his closest competitor. Each of the 209 member nations in FIFA receives one vote, and Blatter received 133 votes.
The elections occurred within 48 hours of FIFA’s public onslaught, which immediately brought up suspicious questions of the entire voting process. Did the same corrupt officials in several member nations vote for Blatter due to bribery or other illegal activities? How many people participated in the voting process in each country? How can tiny nations like Seychelles, Andorra, and Faroe Islands carry as much voting power as Germany, USA, and the United Kingdom??
An extremely expensive trial awaits FIFA and its executive members. Whatever happens in court, it almost assuredly will not impact its success on the playing field. Look no further than the FIFA Women’s World Cup currently playing in Canada. In the United States, which uncovered the dirty laundry in the investigation, a record 4.5 million people tuned in to watch a scoreless draw between USA and Sweden in group stage action. 3.3 million people watched US’s first match against Australia on Fox Sports 1. The combined viewership more than doubles the total amount of viewers who watched USA in 2011 group stage action.
Understandably, this is an extremely small sample size and global TV viewership has not been announced, but the sport remains ridiculously popular all over the world, especially on the men’s side. Over a billion people around the globe watched last month’s UEFA Champions League Final between European powers FC Barcelona and Juventus FC. More than 80% of the total viewing audience resided OUTSIDE of Europe. European soccer has masterfully connected with the Asian audience and has steadily grown its American fan base. UEFA, Barclays Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and Serie A combine to bring in nearly $100 million annually from American TV networks alone.
Almost the entire world can relate to the sport of soccer. All it takes is a ball to play on the streets; thus, people can play this game literally anywhere in the world and use it as a haven from poverty. The extremely rabid fanbases associated with soccer come from the unification of growing up with it. Soccer unites countries, and international competitions provide these countries with an opportunity to come together and support a common group.
FIFA has the luxury of managing the events associated with international competition. Sponsors would be foolish to walk away from this organization, as other groups will quickly line up to take their spots. After all, what better way to connect with literally the entire globe than with an organization that brings the entire world together with the most popular global sport?
Yes, current partners with FIFA should correctly demand appropriate structural change within the organization, in order to prevent future embarrassments to the sport. These issues lingered far too long and brought a dark light to the entire organization.
Other organizations, especially the NBA, recovered admirably well from their early mishaps. Tim Donaghy, a referee who admittedly fixed NBA games he worked from 2005-07, significantly damaged the credibility of the entire league. Media members alleged that fans would stop watching this product since matches were fixed and the entire sport was corrupt. Now, the NBA has arguably the fastest growing product in the world, as every NBA Finals this decade has registered exceptionally strong ratings around the globe.
International soccer has even greater star power than the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Cristiano Ronaldo has over 100 million fans on Facebook and at least 10 others have over 10 million likes on their Facebook pages. With the ever-changing social media world, people’s attention spans have vastly shortened. As long as FIFA does not commit any egregious mistakes within the next couple years, this scandal will likely become a distant memory by the time the 2018 World Cup rolls around. Billions of people will probably tune in to many of the high-profile matches, and FIFA should get the last laugh out of all this.