July 20, 2014

The World Cup Is Over, Hail the FIFA!

R Arun Kumar

THE month long football carnival is over and so are the sleepless, night long vigils. The game has once again proved that our hearts and heads need not necessarily be sharing the same vibes. Heart wanted one to win, head said the other will win and win they did. Local favourite and host Brazil lost badly coming out fourth in the competition. For the first time in the history of the game, a European team has won the championship in Latin America. All these are a spectacle for our consumption. Tear off the skin and we will find the real winners and losers. First let us look at the winners. On the day of the final, media had declared the winner: “It’s official. Adidas won the World Cup...Adidas is an official sponsor of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, meaning its balls are used in World Cup matches and its logo adorns sideboards. It is also the official sponsor of both Germany and Argentina, who will face off in tomorrow’s big game. And it’s the sponsor of the tournament’s top scorer so far, Colombia’s James Rodriguez, as well as Germany’s Thomas Muller and Argentina’s Lionel Messi, the second and fourth top scorers in the World Cup respectively...Adidas has said it expects to generate a record $2.7 billion in soccer revenue this year”. This is up from $2.32 billion a year ago, as the German company is expecting 8 million shirt sales and 14 million ball sales. Not far behind Adidas, and in fact catching up with it, is rival sports goods manufacturing giant, Nike. “Nike's World Cup strategy is already paying off. The company's soccer business generated $2.3 billion in revenue last year, up 21 percent from a year earlier”. For Adidas, Nike “catching up is worrisome” as “Nike sponsors 10 World Cup teams, including the US and Brazil...More importantly, Nike has more individual star players than Adidas...with Brazil's Neymar, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, and Spain's Gerard Pique as prime ambassadors”. Forget that all the star players ended up on the losing sides, what matters is, Nike is winning. Moving away from those who gained from the football field, let us look into those who had brought it 'live' to all our houses – the media giants. This is what the CNBC writes about its brethren: “As the World Cup wraps up this weekend the biggest winners won't be determined in that final match Sunday. In dollars and cents, the biggest winners are media companies – both traditional and social. The World Cup has broken all sorts of ratings records for ESPN, which will boost its ad revenue at a usually slow time of the year. That means Disney's sports behemoth has more than gotten its money's worth from the $100 million it paid for rights to the tournament”. “When it comes to social media, the World Cup has been the biggest event Facebook and Twitter have ever tracked. Facebook revealed that more than 300 million of its users have had over 2 billion interactions about the matches. The Germany versus Brazil upset had the highest level of conversation for any single match with 66 million people having 200 million interactions. Twitter reports that with 35.6 million Tweets, Brazil versus Germany was the most-discussed single sports game ever on the platform. It also set a Tweets per minute record, at 580,166”. While the share prices of both these companies had witnessed a rise, the actual rise in the numbers of users of these social media platforms would be known later this month, when both of them come out with their figures. No second guesses, as they too will witness a growth and contribute to their bulging dollar kitties. Joining the bandwagon of beneficiaries are the makers of various merchandise related to the World Cup and football. Topping the list among such companies is the Electronics Arts (EA), which makes the FIFA series of football video games. EA's CEO Andrew Wilson stated: “Global excitement for this summer's World Cup is heating up”, and so are the sales of his companies games. “As of July 2, FIFA 14 was ranked by Amazon as the No. 18 best-selling Xbox 360 title, the No. 5 PlayStation 3 game, the No. 8 Xbox One title, and the No. 4 best-seller for PS4”. They are expecting “the company to bring in just more than $4 billion in revenue in 2014”. And EA is so benevolent that it doesn't keep all the riches for itself and shares it – with whom, FIFA of course, that gave the 'copyright' to produce the game. So the soccer federation is a double winner here. Associated Press reported on July 13: “As Argentina and Germany prepare for Sunday's World Cup final, companies that produce soccer-related merchandise are already winning. The once-every-four-years consumer frenzy, dubbed by some as the 'World Cup Effect', drives the sale of everything from the traditional jerseys and cleats to unusual items such as team-endorsed windshield wiper fluid to Versace T-shirts and, yes, mobile phone apps”. Not to be left behind, Nike 'just did it', by entering the apps market too. It “released innovative sock-like cleats for the World Cup, and hopes to take advantage of the global focus on the beautiful game with the release of the Nike Soccer App”. What did its rival Adidas do? “Like Nike, Adidas has also pushed beyond shoes and jerseys to capitalise on World Cup mania with its miCoach Smart Ball. The soccer ball, which meets FIFA specifications, has embedded sensors that show players velocity, angle, spin and a host of other information — including what part of the foot is striking the ball — via, you guessed it, an app”. Then there is Gatorade, the manufacturer of sports drink. “The special bottles, created in partnership with Smart Design, contain beverages designed for each player and monitor how much players have consumed via (what else?) an app monitored by coaches”. Add to this list Mc Donald, another official partner of the World Cup and others like fashion designer Versace. Now we have an idea of the winners. The list will be incomplete without mentioning the biggest of them all – FIFA. Remember, Havelange, former head of the FIFA, famously stated: “I have come to sell a product named soccer”. According to Fox News, from the World Cup 2014, FIFA earned “$4.5 billion in revenue from broadcasters, sponsors, hospitality and licensing deals”. From this “FIFA distributes just over $400 million to the 32 national federations taking part in the tournament”. The winning team Germany was given $35 million, while the teams that did not advance past the first round were paid $8 million. Apart from this, “FIFA paid $1.5 million in advance to each of the 32 federations to prepare for the tournament”. The money pocketed by the national federations from 'selling the game', is not trickling down to the players. Fox reports: “Three of the five African teams – Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria – were distracted by payment issues. Cameroon's squad arrived a day late after refusing to board a plane, forcing their federation to take out a loan to ensure players got paid. Ghana's government flew in $3 million in cash...to avert a threatened strike by players...Nigeria players canceled a training session before its Round of 16 loss against France to ensure its bonus payments were upheld”. The clubs, which are the 'slave-drivers' of modern football players, are handsomely rewarded by FIFA for 'freeing' the players to represent their respective countries in the World Cup. “Clubs who released the 736 players taking part in the World Cup will also get their share of FIFA's revenues. FIFA has set aside $70 million to distribute at a rate of $2,800 per player per day that each was on World Cup duty”. That's how deeply entrenched is commercialism in football. Meeting the winners does not make the story complete. Every game has a loser, who is oft forgotten and pushed to oblivion. Similarly, World Cup 2014 has its list of losers too. The poor of Brazil living in the famed favelas (slums) are evicted. They lost their only roof over the head. The plunder of the 'lungs of the world', the Amazon forest and its rich bio-diverse environment was accentuated in the name of development. This includes the indigenous people of Brazil, who were displaced and evicted for the construction of stadiums and other peripheral activities related to hosting the World Cup. The indigenous peoples' cultural centre, a museum that hosted the rich history of Brazil's indigenous people was razed to the ground to renovate Maracana, the venue for the final match. What has been lost to commercialisation of football, is both the beautiful people of Brazil and the beautiful game they had chiseled to perfection. Should we, even now lament over the brutal thrashing of Brazil in the semi-final or...? PS: Maradona, the iconic Argentinian footballer had got this to say on fellow Argentinian Messi winning the golden ball, given to the best player of the tournament: “It's just marketers who want to make him win something he didn't win. It's unfair”. Galeano writes in Soccer in Sun and Shadow, “Advertising outweighs the clean living the sport is supposed to promote.” Need we speak more!