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Amid the Unrest in Brazil, Sponsors Are Encouraged to Share a Sense of Purpose

Protesters at the Confederations Cup made their opinions known this past June

Protesters at the Confederations Cup made their opinions known this past June

Millions of activists have been flooding the streets of Brazil in protest over the government’s decision to use public money to fund high profile athletic events such as the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. At a time where education and medical standards are in decline, the people of Brazil are showing they believe that the R$15 billion real ($6.5 billion US) spent on new stadiums, security and infrastructure would have been better spent building modern schools and hospitals.

Regardless, the leaders of Brazil continue to go ahead with the events citing the economic benefits the country will receive by hosting them. The World Cup alone is expected to bring in close to R$115 billion real ($49 billion US), along with thousands of jobs to the Brazilian economy by the end of 2014.  Even though they will benefit economically from the event, the majority of Brazilians will still be unable to afford the high price of a ticket to watch a World Cup game. While FIFA has made an effort to make tickets more affordable, factors such as high inflation and a stagnating economy will prevent most Brazilians from attending.

The lack of discretion displayed by Brazilian forces during these protests has had the media placing doubts on whether Brazil is ready to host an event as big as the Olympics. With almost all of the Confederation Cup matches witnessing some type of conflict between security forces and protesters, the world can only wait and see if this trend will continue into the World Cup and Olympics.

All this unrest leaves us wondering whether or not there is an opportunity for sponsors to step in and play hero to the Brazilian public. Although there are the obvious economic benefits involved in a sponsorship deal, there is also an intangible benefit for a sponsor who is perceived to have gone out of their way to establish a good will program for people in need. It will be interesting to see if the top sponsors such as Coca Cola, GE, Atos, Dow, Omega, Panasonic, P&G, Panasonic, Samsung, VISA or McDonalds will adjust their efforts. By no means will sponsors be expected to solve Brazil’s socio-economic struggles, but perhaps a plan targeted at aiding some of the 21% of Brazilians living below the poverty line would be a good place to start.

Social media will also play a huge role in the coming months in determining how sponsors react to the political unrest in Brazil. Protestors heavily utilized this resource to organize their efforts in June, and should continue to use it to build momentum for their cause going into the World Cup. The impact of social media has already been felt at events like this. As we mentioned in a previous post, the call from thousands of LGBT supporters to boycott the Sochi Games revealed the amount of pressure that can now be put on events and sponsors by ordinary people. With a heightened awareness of social issues caused by social media, how can sponsors prevent themselves from becoming associated with the controversy that always seems to surround competitions of this caliber?

While the issues found in Brazil are more structural than the social controversy caused by the Russian government, they should be considered just as significant. Sponsors will likely try to shift this focus on to the basic themes of these types of games: equality, respect and courage. But when you consider the financial gains to be made by these companies, at what point do sponsors need to consider assisting the people of a country that are arguably just as responsible for making these events happen in the first place? Conversely, can the people rightfully expect sponsors to invest even more money just because they have deemed their government ineffective? If so, this would open the door to many more issues that could lead to unreasonable expectations being placed on sponsors in the future.

Our solution: TOP sponsors need to be dynamic and consider the variations necessary relative to the host’s sociological and economic climate.  Some of these sponsors are already adept at this, and not only put up the majority of funding for prestigious events, they often times stick around after the event has concluded to address local issues. Take for example the impact McDonalds has had in South Africa after the 2010 World Cup. Their Coach the Coaches program helped develop youth soccer in South Africa by educating coaches and provided equipment for young players. They also helped address issues in infrastructure by donating a bus to the local public transportation center (public transportation remains a central issue in the Brazilian unrest as well). And while a single bus won’t change the world, it shows a level of respect and appreciation to the community in which they were a guest. Perhaps at this point, perception will come down to how effectively sponsors are able to communicate to the people that they are making their best efforts to help.

In Brazil, it could prove to be crucial for sponsors who can make these games more about joining forces with the people of Brazil, rather than the ROI they expect to gain at the people’s expense. By addressing key issues, sponsors may have the opportunity to highlight the sense of humanity in their efforts.

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The End of the Stand-Off

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) finally reached a new revenue-sharing agreement that ends years of international  resentment harbored toward the USOC while it allows the USOC to lift its self-imposed freeze on bidding for future Games, a move it enacted after the 2016 Chicago bid fiasco.

For decades the USOC has received the biggest slice of the Olympic dollars paid by corporate sponsors and U.S. television networks, an arrangement the rest of the Olympic community has resented, and, in turn, one that has contributed to keeping the Olympics out of the U.S. in past years. The new deal, which will begin in 2020, mends this rocky relationship by reducing USOC shares of The Olympic Partner Program (TOP) sponsorship revenues and U.S. television rights. The USOC has also agreed to contribute to the IOC’s administrative costs.

Without a Games held in the U.S. since the 2002 Winter Games, the U.S. could be in the Olympic spotlight again in the near future. As the majority of TOP sponsors come from US corporations — Procter & Gamble, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Dow Chemical Company, and VISA, to name just a few — this should be considered good news for future olympic sponsorship campaigns.

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