Big corporate sponsors generally don't like controversy. When Tiger Woods, then the world's biggest sports star, was engulfed in a sex scandal in 2009, Gillette, Gatorade, AT&T, Tag Heuer and Accenture were among the brands who dropped the golfer.
The following year, Qatar was awarded the rights to one of the world's most lucrative sports sponsorship bonanzas: the FIFA World Cup.
In the 12 years that have passed since that decision and the beginning of the tournament itself, Qatar 2022 has been the definition of controversy. Thousands of migrant workers have reportedly died in Qatar since 2010. Male homosexuality is outlawed while LGBT people on the whole face severe discrimination and various legal obstacles.
That doesn't even get into the controversial manner in which Qatar was awarded the World Cup. Since that infamous 2010 decision, more than half of the 22 members of the FIFA Executive Committee which voted for Qatar have either been implicated in or investigated for alleged corruption or other bad practices.
These are not the kind of things which brands like Adidas or Coca-Cola typically like to associate themselves. Yet when the tournament kicks off on November 20, their brands — along with several other globally recognised names — will be prominent.
No such thing as bad publicity ... or is there?
Since the 2018 World Cup in Russia, little has changed when it comes to official World Cup sponsors. From a combination of so-called FIFA Partners and specific FIFA World Cup Sponsors, the only one that was there in 2018 which will not be there this time is Gazprom, the Russian gas company which has been heavily sanctioned because of the war in Ukraine.
Alongside Adidas and Coca-Cola, Hyundai-Kia, Qatar Airways, Visa, the Wanda Group, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Hisense, McDonalds, Mengniu Dairy and Vivo are all still on board from the last edition.
Three additional official sponsors have even been added: Software company Globant, Indian education tech company Byju's and Crypto.com, continuing football's growing embrace of the cryptocurrency sector.
Yet some sponsors who might otherwise have been there are gone. In 2014, when new allegations about the bidding process emerged, Fly Emirates, Coca-Cola, Sony, Adidas and Visa all released statements issuing concern about Qatar 2022.
"The negative tenor of the public debate around FIFA at the moment is neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners," Adidas said at the time. Visa said: "Our expectation remains that all of our partners maintain strong ethical standards and operate with transparency."
Of those, Sony and Fly Emirates were the only ones to actually end their relationships with FIFA. Both opted not to renew commercial deals once they expired at the end of 2014.
Kieran Maguire, sports finance expert at the University of Liverpool, says many companies are locked into long-term deals with FIFA and prefer to focus on that relationship rather than dwell on issues with the host nation.
"They've signed a deal with FIFA, not with the Qatari government," he told DW. "So even though the ethical, moral, cultural position of Qatar might not fit in with that of the senior sponsors, it's not actually proven to be enough of an issue for them to say, 'well, for this tournament, we're not going to be promoting our products.'"
Sponsors do typically sign long-term deals with FIFA, often of 8-year or 16-year durations. However, of the main ones to remain with FIFA, Adidas, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Coca-Cola and Visa all renewed their existing deals in the years after Qatar was confirmed as host. Hyundai renewed their current deal just days before the 2022 host was announced.
Many deals are up for renewal shortly after the forthcoming World Cup.
Ten billion eyeballs
For many of the sponsors, the sheer scale of exposure afforded by the FIFA World Cup is too great to turn down. FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he expects five billion people around the world to watch the tournament, exceeding the previous record of four billion who watched Russia 2018.
Yet as the tournament has drawn nearer, pressure has grown on sponsors. In July 2020, as reports of the conditions faced by migrant workers in Qatar drew more and more attention, several human rights groups contacted FIFA sponsors and asked them to intervene.
Adidas, AB InBev, Coca-Cola and McDonalds responded with statements, expressing support for migrant reforms and compensation for workers in Qatar. However, all remain committed to the tournament. Maguire says their statements have ultimately carried little punch.
"There's been no evidence of any of the major sponsors taking a real stance on things because the criticism in terms of human rights is coming from liberal democracies," he said. "FIFA has got around 200 members. There's plenty of countries who have no issues whatsoever in terms of what's taking place in Qatar."
Some brands tied to teams competing at the World Cup, rather than to FIFA itself, have plans to water down their promotions. ING, which sponsors the Dutch team, says it will not attend the tournament and that it will make no specific World Cup marketing campaigns. Denmark's kit providers Hummel have made a similar move by "toning down" their logos on the Danish kits, making them barely visible.
Ultimately though, the overall picture in terms of branding and sponsorship at the forthcoming World Cup in Qatar is largely unchanged from previous editions, despite the controversies.
Maguire argues anyone expecting something different would only have needed to look to the example of Russia 2018 to know that little was going to change.
"Coca Cola and Adidas sell products in Qatar," he said. "If they genuinely felt strong about the matter, then they could pull out of those markets. We had the 2018 World Cup in Russia and remember, Russia had invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. But that didn't stop any of the sponsors from getting involved."
Edited by: Uwe Hessler