FIFA President Sepp Blatter Targeted As Visa, Coke Kick Up Pressure

Less than a day before FIFA’s elections, beleaguered president Sepp Blatter is facing growing pressure to speak out or resign following Wednesday’s arrests in Switzerland of top executives from the world soccer organization. Major sponsors threatened to take action in response to the crisis.

Visa, McDonald’s, The Coca-Cola Co., Adidas, Budweiser and Hyundai all released statements following the dramatic arrests yesterday of seven senior FIFA officials, along with seven other associate figures, by a joint U.S.-Swiss task force. The outcry from sponsors follows the news Thursday that Swiss police are questioning 10 FIFA execs over the decision to award World Cups to Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022, respectively.

Visa has emerged as the strongest critical voice, threatening to “reassess its sponsorship” unless FIFA was prepared to take “swift and immediate steps” to address the allegations.

“Visa became a sponsor of FIFA because the World Cup is one of the few truly global sporting events with the power to unite people from around the world through a common love of football,” read the Visa statement. “Our sponsorship has always focused on supporting the teams, enabling a great fan experience, and inspiring communities to come together and celebrate the spirit of competition and personal achievement – and it is important that FIFA makes changes now, so that the focus remains on these going forward.”

“This lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup and we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations,” said Coca-Cola.

Adidas said it was, “fully committed to creating a culture that promotes the highest standards of ethics and compliance and we expect the same from our partners,” while Mcdonald’s, Hyundai and Budweiser all said they were “monitoring the situation closely.”

Blatter, who has yet to make a public appearance since Wednesday’s events, was holding a crisis meeting with FIFA leaders today. The representatives from FIFA’s six regions include European football chief Michel Platini, the head of UEFA, who has been vocal in calling on Blatter to step down and has publicly backed the Presidential campaign of Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Hussein, the only remaining challenger to Blatter in Friday’s election.

Blatter and his reps have reaffirmed their intention to open FIFA’s congress today and hold elections on Friday. The growing criticism from sponsors will be a major worry, however, especially as the World Cup, and revenues from TV and sponsors, account for 90% of FIFA’s income.

As a measure of just how lucrative the tournaments are, in 2011, Fox paid $425 million for English-language rights in the U.S. — beating out ESPN in the process — for two cycles. FIFA said in February it had extended its U.S. deal with Fox through 2026 for English-language rights, with Telemundo extending its deal for Spanish-language coverage and CTV/TSN taking Canadian rights.

Last summer’s final in Brazil was watched by 26.5 million people in the U.S. between ESPN’s ABC broadcast and Univision.

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