I know very little about international soccer. But I do know this: FIFA is corrupt and has been for decades so the FIFA arrests were no surprise to me.
That belief, based on little evidence, was confirmed last night when many top officials at the global soccer organization were arrested by US officials on charges of corruption. Following that, Swiss officials are looking into charges that bribes were taken in exchanges for the right to host the World Cup.
As Captain Renault would say, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here.”
The interesting part for me is that I knew FIFA was corrupt without being an avid fan. Yes, I usually do watch some of the matches during the World Cup. And I felt the naming of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup made no sense because it would be deathly hot during play and, as we know, Qatar is rich.
The state of the union for league brands.
Does FIFA have a serious brand problem? Probably not as soccer fans have been clamoring for the investigation of its lead officials for years and FIFA remains the arguably the most popular sports brand in the world.
In a way, fans are able to separate the corruption of the organization’s leaders from the sport itself. For example, the NFL has some troublesome aspects of its leadership and of the sport itself. Yet, it remains the most powerful sports brand in the US.
It takes quite a bit for a sports brand to fall in the eyes of its fans because the fans are in love with the sport itself. The Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series severely damaged Major League Baseball, but it came roaring back with Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees in the following decade.
The NBA had a serious brand problem in the late 70s when cocaine use was rampant and the league had weak leadership. (The NBA championship trophy is called the Larry O’Brien Trophy named after that former commissioner. But anyone following the NBA back then remembers that he was a weak leader.)
The NBA bounced back with the arrival of a strong commissioner (David Stern) and stars like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson who played an unselfish game that made the sport exciting again in the 80s.
So where does FIFA stand now? Its leader, Sepp Blatter, was not arrested on charges. But, considering he has been the organization’s longtime leader and is expected to win re-election on Friday, he should step down in light of the FIFA arrests. The corruption happened on his watch and I have a difficult time thinking he had no knowledge of it (or didn’t take part in it).
Soccer fans will continue to watch the World Cup and follow international soccer because the FIFA brand, although damaged, has proved too strong to be toppled by this.
In fact, soccer fans are responding to the arrests with a heartfelt “Ole!”