5 Sponsorship Implications of FIFA’s World Cup Expansion
5 minute read
- FIFA has voted to increase the World Cup to a 48-team tournament, which will cause a number of sponsorship implications
- The new format will allow for more sponsors to leverage the World Cup platform and will give more opportunity for sponsors to identify emerging endorsers
- The new format is set to be introduced at the 2026 World Cup and Canada is among those rumoured as a potential host
On January 10th, it was revealed that FIFA had unanimously voted to expand the World Cup format from a 32-team tournament to a 48-team tournament. The new format will include 16 groups of three teams, with the top two teams advancing to a 32-team single elimination tournament. While the new format will increase the number of teams, the tournament will remain 32 days in length with the same number of rest days. The new expanded format is set to be introduced at the 2026 World Cup.
FIFA and the World Cup are two of the most recognized sports brands in the world, and the new format change will have an effect on a number of aspects including sponsorship. FIFA has already forecast that the expansion will result in an extra $1 billion in revenue due to increased broadcasting and sponsorship deals, and ticket sales. MKTG breaks down the expanded format, providing key sponsorship takeaways and highlighting what the new format means for Canada.
1. New Sponsorship Opportunities and Increased Activation at the FIFA and National Governing Body Level
The national governing bodies of soccer are responsible for sending their respective teams to compete in the World Cup. The governing bodies themselves attract significant sponsor interest and when the World Cup occurs, domestic sponsors leverage the opportunity to promote their association with the national team. Mercedes is a major sponsor of the German Football Association and during the country’s 2014 Word Cup victory, they used the opportunity congratulate the team, creating a dedicated page to the victory on their website. With 16 teams added to the tournament, this will give a number of national team sponsors the opportunity to promote their association with sponsored World Cup team.
Conversely, the expanded format will also allow for major international sponsors of FIFA the ability to engage with 16 new markets that will have an added interest in the World Cup. These markets could prove to be key areas of strategic interest to FIFA sponsors and this will give sponsors a valuable opportunity to engage with them during a major moment for their country.
2. Increased Pool of Potential Endorsers to Emerge
Few other stages provide the ability to capture the attention of a global audience like the World Cup. Due to the international attention, players participating have the ability to introduce themselves to a brand new audience. Additionally, the increased media coverage provides an opportunity for players to show their personality off the field. This can give sponsorship marketers an opportunity to identify new and emerging endorsers.
This most recently occurred during 2014’s World Cup when Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Neves played a key role in his team making the quarterfinals. He won the second most Man of the Match awards, behind established superstar Lionel Messi. With his strong play, Neves secured a contract with Spanish team Real Madrid, and shortly after signed to an endorsement deal with adidas.
With an increase in teams and players, there will be a greater pool of players to identify as future endorsers as they leverage the World Cup as a potential launching pad.
3. An Increased Chance for an Underdog Presents the Opportunity to tell a Compelling Story
During last year’s Euro Cup, the unlikely run of Iceland became the story of the tournament. The run captured the attention of not just soccer fans from Iceland, but soccer fans from around the world. Iceland’s Cinderella-like run provided brands with the opportunity to piggy back off of the team’s success. In fact, an English grocer named Iceland, was one of the sponsors of the Icelandic team and used the opportunity to promote the soccer team as “the UK’s second favourite team”.
Underdog stories can give sponsors the opportunity to tell compelling stories as unlikely runs can become the talk of the tournament. With the expanded World Cup format, including an increased single elimination round, there will be a greater chance for an underdog team to surprise at the World Cup.
4. Potential for Less Parity May Harm Early-Round Viewership
With such a major format change to a tournament with international appeal and significant history, there will be plenty of differing opinions on whether it is ultimately a positive or negative change. With only 8 different nations having won the World Cup since its inception in 1930, people say that a 32 team field already includes a number of teams that do not have a legitimate chance of winning. By increasing the field to 48 teams, the quality of matches may suffer even further. If the early round games of the expanded World Cup feature significant one-sided play, there could be decreased interest in tournament matches, with fans waiting until later in the tournament to tune-in. This could hurt overall interest and viewership, making it harder for sponsors to engage with fans throughout the entire tournament.
5. Canada’s Chances of Qualifying Likely to Increase
Canada is currently ranked 78th in the world and would still have to see some improvement to make the 48 team field. However, the expanded spots will be designated for births of specific continental governing bodies. Canada is a part of CONCACAF, who are currently assigned three guaranteed spots and one potential wild card spot. With the expansion of the World Cup, there have been estimates that this could increase to six spots, giving Canada a greater opportunity to qualify.
There is also a chance that Canada could see a birth in 2026 regardless, as there are early reports of a joint Mexico-US-Canada bid for the tournament, which would mean Canada would receive a host bid for the tournament.
Canada has increasingly seen a rise in soccer interest due to a number of factors including the sports low financial commitment to participate and the influx of New Canadians from countries with a passion for soccer. In the past ten years, Canada has hosted both the U-20 World Cup and Women’s World Cup Tournaments. This, in combination with three successful Canadian Major League Soccer franchises in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, has seen a steady rise in not just the participation of the sport, but viewership as well. A World Cup in 2026 could come at a time when Canadian interest in soccer is at an all-time high, giving sponsors a strong platform to reach consumers.
The expanded World Cup field provides the first significant change to the tournament in almost 20 years. This change will no doubt effect the on-field play, but will lead to new opportunities for sponsors as well.