Business / Industries

FIFA to have more Chinese friends with money

(Agencies) Updated: 2016-06-14 07:33

FIFA to have more Chinese friends with money

FIFA Marketing Director Thierry Weil (first left) and chairman of Dalian Wanda Group Wang Jianlin (third from left), attend the event announcing the strategic partnership between Wanda and FIFA in March in Beijing. [Photo/Agencies]

As China tries to emerge as a soccer power, prominent business leaders of the country embrace the sport's governing body

China's soccer boom couldn't have come at a better time for FIFA.

After vocal criticism from top US and European sponsors, FIFA has found new friends-and financial support-in China. Prominent business leaders, eager to participate in President Xi Jinping's national campaign to make China a soccer power, have embraced the sport's governing body, undeterred by the crisis that just last week brought new revelations of corruption and self-dealing.

Since the first wave of soccer-related arrests more than a year ago, FIFA has added only two top-tier sponsors, both Chinese companies. A unit of Alibaba Group became the title sponsor of the Club World Cup in December 2015. Three months later, Dalian Wanda Group Co became a FIFA sponsor at the highest level, paying $150 million per four-year World Cup cycle to put its name alongside Coca-Cola Co and adidas AG.

FIFA still wants to add another pair of nine-figure partners, and FIFA's marketing director Thierry Weil said those could also go to Asian companies, possibly by the end of the summer. Four World Cup sponsorships, which cost less, are also available.

Weil's department couldn't do much after indictments and investigations against several top FIFA leaders created a near meltdown at the organization. Meanwhile, the campaign to replace Sepp Blatter, the ousted president, unfolded with the histrionics of a telenovela.

"This was quite a strange year for us," Weil said. "It would have been hard for any company to continue. So we put certain discussions on ice, and stopped other discussions."

Meanwhile, FIFA's Western sponsors, led by Coke and adidas, made loud, public demands for changes to global soccer's leadership and its governance processes. Corporate partners published open letters to the organization shortly after appeared in British Parliament, where they were questioned about their own complicity in FIFA's mess.

"The sponsors have definitely not been happy," Weil said. "They put a lot of pressure on us, and in that way helped to achieve what FIFA has achieved."

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