Whether you are mad for soccer or not, if you are interested in sponsorship you have to love the World Cup and the ever-present marketing intrigue, issues and plain old good stories that accompany it every four years. Of course, this year’s silly season got off to a whale of an early start with the still-to-be-resolved MasterCard/Visa dust-up over rights to the new FIFA Partner status for next term, but that’s not all there is to chew on.

Monitoring the media coverage leading up to the tournament, we are very concerned that public frustration over ticket allocations for sponsors of major sports properties may be coming to a head and could result in backlash. About 16 percent of the 3.7 million World Cup tickets were set aside for sponsors, with another 11 percent set aside for buyers of official FIFA corporate hospitality packages. Already, England’s Football Supporters’ Federation has organized an online petition drive to gather one million names to pressure FIFA to reduce the corporate allotment. Making matters worse, a front-page story on the ticket controversy in the Int’l Herald Tribune contained this unfathomable quote from a British marketing manager for Toshiba: “The key trend is to limit the number of tickets to the general public, therefore making the sponsorship worth more…If the only way people in the U.K. can see World Cup in person is by taking part in Toshiba promotions, it adds a lot more to the event for us.” We have long counseled sponsors to enhance experiences rather than interrupting them; we thought it went without saying not to interfere with them! It seems some companies don’t get that in a world where consumers are in control– where the only way to reach them is to have them reach you–trying to force them into a relationship by otherwise becoming an obstacle to their involvement with something they are passionate about is the antithesis of what sponsorship should be all about. It’s about love, permission and credit, not coercion.

It’s amazing to us that no matter how big the rightsholder or how large the fees its top sponsors pay, properties can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to trying to milk every last revenue stream, even at the expense of ambushing their corporate partners. Even as it mounts its extensive anti-ambush efforts on the ground in Germany, FIFA is no exception. Looking at the World Cup Official Program book, it is clear that not only were ads in the publication not included as part of the eight-figure annual fees paid by the 15 official World Cup partners–only seven appear in the book–but that the licensee publisher was allowed to sell ads to competitors, e.g., Sri Lanka Airlines has an ad but sponsor Emirates does not.

The “drink-ball” soccer ball-shaped bottles offered by Coke and McDonald’s have stirred up environmentalists and the German government, offering a cautionary tale for those thinking about offering similar collectibles. Wanting to encourage customers to save the bottles as keepsakes, McDonald’s chose not to charge the standard deposit that encourages recycling. That constituted “an unbelievably brazen attack on the returnable bottle system,” according to the leader of a major German environmental organization. At press time, the organization was considering a lawsuit to stop the two sponsors from advertising and selling the bottles.

Jim Andrews