Fifa World Cup: Wanda and Chinese sponsors don’t respect the rules … but that’s a good thing

Fifa’s ‘challenging’ new Chinese partners are shaking up the sponsorship game, according to commercial chief Philippe Le Floc’h

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 11:07am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 9:59pm

China’s profile has hit unprecedented levels throughout the World Cup finals in Russia over the last month. And as the tournament edges towards its finale on Sunday, Fifa’s chief commercial officer Philippe Le Floc’h has confessed the involvement of the country’s corporate giants has caused a shake-up within the game’s governing body.

Seven companies – Fifa partner Wanda Group, World Cup sponsors Hisense, Mengniu and Vivo as well as regional backers Diking, Yaeda and Luci – have ensured the tournament has had a Chinese presence that has outstripped even the 2002 event, when the national team secured their only successful qualification.

And their high-profile showing and unique approach to business has forced Fifa to adapt its own practices to accommodate some of the nation’s biggest entities.

“What is interesting with the Chinese companies – because they are new into this world – is they come with new ideas, which is interesting,” Le Floc’h told the South China Morning Post.

“They are fast moving, they are challenging, they don’t take no for an answer. But it’s been a very good exchange.

“Some were a bit late on board but they’ve done an amazing job. So it’s good to have new approaches and a new way of thinking that can transpire into the other conversations that we have.

“They come in and are less respectful of the rules because they’re not used to the rules.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, but they will challenge and come up with new ideas because they really want to engage with people.

“So they have less of an institutional approach, which is always interesting.”

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The desire of so many Chinese corporate entities to support the World Cup finals came at an opportune moment for Fifa in the aftermath of a series of bribery and corruption scandals that saw the organisation making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Wanda, Vivo and Hisense signed up after Sony, Castrol and Continental ended their relationships with Fifa and their presence has added to the sense Russia 2018 has been a coming-of-age party for Chinese involvement in the global sport.

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These finals have had a distinct Chinese feel which has extended beyond the corporate side of the event, with more than 40,000 match tickets sold to fans ahead of the finals with significant numbers of mainland media also covering the event.

“It’s not a China push [from Fifa], it’s a world push,” Le Floc’h said of China’s growing visibility at the World Cup. “Football is the world’s sportand Fifahas a global footprint and a global obligation with 211 associations.

“The situation we had was a bit of an anomaly where most of our partners were coming from the western world for various reasons.

“Now the world economy is shifting, we see a lot of so-called emerging countries having very aggressive and good companies and these companies have gone beyond the boundaries of the domestic market and they want to go beyond that.

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“Our raison d’etre is to develop football on a worldwide basis. In addition, there’s a lot of hype around football in China and we want to help Chinese football to develop, so it’s a good fit.”

The new Fifa regime in Zurich under president Gianni Infantino has been looking to take a fresh approach on all fronts, according to Le Floc’h, after 16 officials were indicted by the FBI in 2015.

“It’s a very post-colonial approach to ask why we don’t go with western companies,” he said. “We’re a global organisation. We have a clear strategic direction and we want to go and talk to people who can support us.

“We don’t really care about the passport of our partners. We just want to find the right people to support us.

“What has happened in the past with Fifa – like you had with the scandals at the IOC, IAAF – you have a new president, and new management team and we basically have a very clear stance on how we want to proceed and what to do.

“Nobody has ever told me: ‘We don’t want to work with you because of what happened’. What happened, happened and we’ve spoken to people and we explain the measures the new administration has taken to ensure this never happens again and then we are having a conversation.

“The more the merrier and the better mix because being the worldwide sport and having a worldwide footprint our partners should represent the diversity business wise that we have sports wise.”