World Cup branding

The World Cup is under way, and for five weeks, whatever the time of day, a global audience will be tuning in to watch the best national teams compete for the ultimate footballing prize.

Football was once the working man’s game, but now it is a big business. It has global appeal—more than 3.2 billion people are expected to watch at least part of the tournament live on TV. Not surprisingly, given its global reach, the FIFA World Cup is now a brand in its own right, a brand that corporations want to be aligned with.

Money: The most influential football supporter

Estimates are that the 22 official sponsors and partners of the tournament have each spent between US$14 million and US$200 million to tie their brands to the World Cup. Interestingly, this outlay does not guarantee official sponsors the halo effect that one would automatically expect. Research released by Global Language Monitor this week shows that four of the five brands most associated with the 2014 World Cup are not actually official sponsors.1

More troubling is the fact that the unofficial four are direct competitors of official sponsors. Beats by Dre has ambushed Sony, KFC has ambushed McDonalds, Nike has ambushed Adidas, and while Continental tops the chart as the brand most linked with the World Cup, Bridgestone, their unofficial challenger, sits just three places behind them.

Beats appear to be the big winner of this World Cup. To try to protect Sony’s sponsorship investment, FIFA banned Beats headphones from the World Cup. Despite this, the likes of Brazil’s Neymar and Italy’s Mario Balotelli were seen wearing them during training sessions. Beats’ film, The Game Before the Game, now has nearly 21 million views on YouTube and has received extensive media coverage. Beats has been successful because of its raw communications. Unlike the superslick, corporate feel of many sponsors’ communications, Beats has captured the intensity of the game and provided an insight into the minds of football players by telling the story of how the match starts in the changing room. In short, the brand has generated relevance with player and public alike.

Brand football still engages the masses

Despite the money that pours into football and concerns about football’s governance, ethics, and transparency, the game endures.

While the business of football may be tarnished, in its purest sense the sport still has the ability to connect with the masses and generate unrivaled levels of passion. Although brands have fallen over themselves to be associated with the sport, arguably the strongest brands at this year’s World Cup are those of the competing nations.

Consider team Brazil as a brand for a moment. It is more than a football team; it has a unique personality and represents a clear set of values and beliefs. It has global appeal. For decades, Brazil has produced the most talented players and entertained football fans. Its consumer audience, the Brazilian public, demands a certain style of play—success on the pitch isn’t enough; winning with stylish football is the prerequisite. These “brand” associations appeal to all fans of the game and transcend nationality.

The winning brands of the World Cup—whether product, player, or team—will be the ones that strip back the game to its fundamental components of raw emotion and passion. Capture these emotions and you can capture a global audience.


This article was first published as “The branding of football #worldcup2014,” in Marketing.


1. “Beats tops Sony in first Ambush Marketing rankings World Cup 2014,” Global Language Monitor (23 June 2014),