Too much

Adidas CEO warns of over-marketing soccer

soccer
Money, money, money, makes the soccer go 'round. Source: DPA

In a man-bites-dog interview, one of the global soccer sponsors most responsible for commercializing the “beautiful game” expressed concern about the sport becoming over-commercialized. In an interview with a sports magazine during the World Cup in Moscow, Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted complained about the recent decision by FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, to increase the World Cup competition to 48 teams from the current 32 starting in 2026.

The umbrella soccer organization made the decision “without asking us,” Mr. Rorsted said in an interview with Kicker magazine, referring to the sponsors. “And they knew very well what our opinion was.”

The head of the German sporting goods manufacturer is concerned that FIFA’s eagerness to get more teams involved is motivated by greed and will lead to a dilution in quality of play. “When everything becomes commercial and no longer emotional, then soccer fans will switch off,” he said.

Billions in additional revenue

The plan to increase the number of teams in the World Cup comes after the recent decision to expand the Club World Cup from the current seven participants to 24 and hold it every four years instead of annually. That decision seemed largely inspired by club investors, who estimated the expansion would generate $25 billion in additional revenue in the period 2021-33.

And that expansion comes on top of changes in Champions’ League participation with automatic qualification of top teams, so that the interesting games in a competition that extends from July to May comes only in the spring, Mr. Rorsted complained.

The increase in championship competitions extends the season, lowers the quality of play and could easily lead to fans losing interest, according to critics, including Adidas and other sponsors.

A similar problem has overtaken the professional basketball and hockey leagues in North America, as playoffs have turned into virtually a second season, extending play of these “winter” sports well into the summer baseball season. Meanwhile, the National Football League, the NFL, has become a platform for marketing spinoff products and running commercials. Health and political controversies have further exacerbated a decline in attendance.

Consumer shift

Adidas is one of the biggest sponsors of FIFA and world soccer. Its logo is prominently displayed on the jerseys of the German national team, the defending champions in the current World Cup in Russia, as well as several other teams. However, the importance of these big competitions has declined with the overall shift of consumers to more informal dress, including sportswear and sneakers.

Mr. Rorsted also urged reform of club play in Germany by eliminating the current requirement that the parent club own 50 percent plus one share of the soccer team. Although the Denmark native is a lifelong fan of the Munich team FC Bayern München, that team’s dominance in Germany is supported by the requirement and won’t change in the near future if the rule remains in effect, he said.

One FIFA decision that Mr. Rorsted approves of is awarding the 2026 World Cup to North America, with venues in Mexico, Canada and the United States. Mexico is a top soccer country and there is an opportunity to further develop the soccer fan base in the US, he said.

Darrell Delamaide is a writer and editor for Handelsblatt Global in Washington, DC. To contact the author: d.delamaide@extern.handelsblatt.com.

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