One of my favorite movies is Casablanca. It came to mind last week as the FIFA scandal unfolded. Soccer fan or not, you’re probably aware of the indictments issued (with more to come) against high-ranking administrators and marketing executives. If you’re not the details are here.
That was, in essence, the response by Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, who claims to have had no clue such corruption was going on. I’ll wait while you stop laughing, but this really is no laughing matter. We are watching a major sports organization implode and there are billions of dollars involved. It is a classic PR crisis, and one thing you can’t do in this situation is to go dark and allow others to dictate the conversation. That is, however, exactly what the brain trust at FIFA is doing:
A quick look into Socialbakers Analytics tells us that that’s not what was going through the minds of FIFA’s PR team: out of the almost 8000 questions posed to them on Twitter in just under last month, they’ve responded to zero.
That’s from the Social Bakers blog. Into that vacuum you have one of the indicted executives citing a piece in The Onion as supporting his innocence and several of FIFA’s corporate sponsors have expressed dismay while threatening to pull their financial support. After all, brands sponsor sports in part so they can transfer the goodwill that fans feel for the sport to the brand’s equity. When that goodwill vanishes, the brand is damaged as well.
What should they be doing? I’m not a PR expert but I know silence is not an option. The few messages they’ve put out there have been met with ridicule and the reelection of the man at the head of the organization, who claims he can clean it up, is widely seen as a negative.
“You can’t just ask everybody to behave ethically just like that in the world in which we live,” Blatter said in his opening remarks to the FIFA congress. “We cannot constantly supervise everybody that is in football,” he added. “That is impossible.”
Really? Most big companies with which I’ve worked do exactly that, and the stench of corruption has been around the beautiful game for as long as I’ve worked in sports. Staying silent in a crisis is bad. Making statements that deny culpability (FIFA is trying to argue that all the problems are with other soccer organizations, not FIFA) is worse. As with Louis in Casablanca, what’s been going on is very obvious and as the old line goes, I’m choosing to believe my lying eyes over FIFA. You?