World Cup Watching

Has the World Cup been everything it was supposed to be?

Professor Simon Chadwick

Posted: July 9, 2018

Prior to the start of the World Cup, I wrote a series of short guides to the World Cup, which can be accessed via the links below. It would be a major challenge to assess in detail the significance of each guide, though it still nevertheless feels important to address each of them.

Consequently, a summary under the respective headings is provided below, as are some new, additional readings that might help add to one’s understanding in each case:


Posting on Sponsorship

It has been relatively quiet on the sponsorship front. Although many of us are probably by now aware of some of the big sponsorship deals – probably via television and online advertising, and pitch-side LED signage – there have been no standout sponsors. That said, the likes of Adidas (with its lavish, celebrity-laden sponsorship-linked advertising) have grabbed some headlines. China’s new sponsors have garnered attention, though their target audience was believed to Chinese rather than international consumers. As such, despite having been exposed to names like Wanda and Mengniu, many of the world’s consumers are still asking what it is that these companies sell.

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Posting on  Ambushing

Following mega-ambushes by Bavaria of the 20o6 and 2010 World Cups, as well as the likes of Paddy Power’s ongoing attempts to test the boundaries of ambushing, this World Cup has not witnessed the headline grabbing guerrilla tactics of previous tournaments. The perceived sensitivities of marketing products and brands in the context of international sensitivities about Russia appears to have affected ambushers too. However, there was still some ambushing, though largely low-key, although Beatz by Dr Dre continues to position itself as a major ambushing threat at some of the world’s biggest sports mega-events.

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Posting on Trollling

It seemed inevitable that trolling would be a key feature, and so it has been. In fact, trolling during the World Cup has been something akin to a mass participation event taking place in parallel with the tournament. From Robbie Williams’ opening songs and Neymar’s diving through to Germany’s early exit from the competition and competing brands trying to outwit one another, trolling now seems to be a staple of the event staging landscape. In this context, trolling at one level has been creative, intelligent and often witty; however, it has also been vicious, cruel and, in some case, criminal. In business management terms, as expected Iceland (a British frozen foods retailer) proved to be particularly adept (sometimes very humorously) at trolling players, teams and its competitive rivals in order to draw attention to itself.

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Posting on Geopolitics

Many fans and observers will no doubt celebrate the fact that football and not politics ultimately won this year’s World Cup. Nevertheless, several political sideshows have been running in parallel with the tournament, perhaps the most obvious of which has been the ongoing Gulf feud involving Qatar and Saudi Arabia (which resulted in an increasingly messy BeIn/BeOut dispute). Otherwise, although Vladimir Putin was largely absent during the tournament, his influence could still be felt. His government too the opportunity to raise Russia’s retirement age under the cover of the World Cup, whilst Ossetia and Abkhazia were recognised as independent states by Russia and some of its allies. One suspects the geopolitical competition will go on long after the football tournament is over.

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Posting on Soft Power

This year’s World Cup has confirmed the ubiquity of the term ‘soft power’, even though it is still often incorrectly employed. However, Russia 2018 has helped to confirm that football (and sport) is an important instrument of soft power, and that games are not simply played-out on the pitch but off it too. There has been considerable debate about the outcomes of soft power for Russia, though the country may not be the ultimate winner of the tournament. France and Great Britain are two soft-power heavyweights, both of which reached the semi-finals of this years competition. Should one of them win the tournament, they could prove to be the big winners of summer 2018.

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Posting on Tournament

When Japan played out the remaining minutes of game with Poland at walking pace, and when England fielded a second-string line-up in its group game against Belgium, it became clearly evident how important tournament design and format is. This is always a challenge for event owners and will continue to be so, though it is still worth asking: how does one design the optimum tournament format? This question will re-surface again in the coming four years, as it now appears that a forty-eight team World Cup in Qatar is firmly back on world football’s tournament agenda. Whilst such a tournament is likely to generate more revenues and promote greater global democracy in football, the mismatching of opponents and quality of games will be an issue, as we saw during some of the early matches in Russia.

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Posting on Fans

There had been concerns among some observers, particularly in Western Europe, that Russia 2018 would be characterised by hooligan violence. It would however appear that the Russian government sought to address this threat in various ways. The focus on fans at the tournament has therefore been on the countries from which people have travelled, and how these people have exhibited their fandom. Several groups have caught the eye, not least the Chinese fans who travelled to Russia for the World Cup. Indeed, Chinese fans have been amongst the largest group there – with possibly more football fans in Russia than even England. Otherwise, we should not forget how Russia’s own fans engaged with the tournament, and the way in which it helped foster a collective national identity.

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Posting on Brands

Brand battles have been breaking out all over the place – both on the pitch and off it. With three teams in the semi-finals, Nike might well claim that it has beaten its nearest rival Adidas in the kit supply contest. Nike can also take satisfaction from its Nigeria shirt, which captured the zeitgeist and generated huge social media buzz. Country brands benefitted from the tournament too, Croatia, England, Japan and Peru immediately springing to mind for various reasons. But this was a tournament of player brands too; Messi and Ronaldo are rapidly heading towards the end of their brand lifecycles, while Brand MBappe seems to be on the cusp of relevance. Brand Neymar remains valuable though somewhat tarnished, and Brand Salah unfortunately got caught-up in some unwanted political distractions but was also undermined by Egypt’s early exit from the tournament.

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Posting on Digital

We knew it would be and so it was: the 2018 World Cup was played out digitally and on social media, like no other football tournament before. There was a feeling before the event kicked-off that television might take a big hit, with viewing figures falling off a cliff. However, in many territories across the world, terrestrial television viewing figures have held-up well and, in some cases, have actually broken records. Even so, the big tournament winner has been streamed viewing of matches – there has been a massive move towards people watching the action online. For those in stadiums, mobile devices have increasingly appeared to be a crucial part of the football experience (just take a look at the number of cameras flashing whenever games are underway). The phenomena of co-creation and pro-sumption are already well established, though some observers have clearly been taken aback by how important they have now become in World Cup football.

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Posting on Qatar

As this World Cup ends and the world begins preparing itself for the tournament’s next edition in 2022, Qatar is already coming under the spotlight. The matter of whether the country can host a forty-eight team tournament will rapidly emerge, whilst issues of migrant labour, climate and tournament rescheduling will continue. During this summer’s event, Qatar has been on something of a charm offensive. Not only has ‘Qatar Airways’ been routinely appearing on pitch-side LED screens, but the organisers of 2022 have undertaken all manner of engagement activities in Russia. Even so, Qatar became contentiously embroiled in the BeIn/BeOut saga, which has been a sign of how important it is that the country’s differences with regional neighbours are successfully addressed.

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Posting on Resources

The presence of Gazprom as a sponsor confirms the central role that football now plays in representing the oil and gas interests of nations. As the tournament in Russia ends and the world looks to Qatar in 2022, this is not about to change anytime soon. Although issues of carbon fuel have not been prominent during this summer’s World Cup, there have been some important issues involving Gazprom rumbling in the background. Among these have been an asset freeze, problems with court cases, and decisions about the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. As a result, it seems likely that Gazprom will continue its engagement with football for some time to come. It is also worth noting that, during the World Cup, Saudi Arabia increased its oil supply (following a request from the United States), with the objective of driving down oil prices and, hence, associated revenues. It will be interesting to observe if and how this might impact upon Qatar.

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Posting on Impact

Figures reported before the World Cup began indicated that Russia has spent US$11 billion on preparing for the tournament, which will help generate US$31 billion in economic benefit. However, as with all such events one should remain sceptical about the accuracy of such figures (and, indeed, the methodologies employed to generate them). This observation is especially relevant as calculations of economic benefit often neglect to factor in the economic costs (for example, the costs of pollution, congestion, crime and so forth). It is also worth remembering too that, no matter what the economic costs and benefits, the political benefits for the Russian government are likely to be significant too (though probably more intangible in nature). The impact for participating nations has also been significant too; in England’s case, this extended from the economic bounce which the country’s national team success brought, through to the way in which this success helped engender a new sense of national identity.

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Posting on Imagery

The significance of imagery at this year’s World Cup is perhaps most potently symbolised by the way in which pictures have helped to characterise fans. From the huge numbers of Peruvian fans attending the tournament through to the photos of Japanese fans tidying-up stadiums they have attended, images have made a significant contribution to our perceptions of other nations. However, the more contentious nature of imagery has been evident in the depiction of women; indeed, gender has been a key underlying feature of the tournament. Not only have several female journalists been accosted in Russia during the World Cup, but the way in which, for example, broadcasters have used female imagery remains a cause of concern and consternation.

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About Professor Simon Chadwick

Simon is Professor of Sports Enterprise at Salford University in Manchester (UK), where he is also a Co-Director of the Centre for Sports Business. He is also a Founding Co-Director of the China Soccer Observatory and a Senior Fellow of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham (UK). He has worked in football across the world, for various organisations including companies, federations, and governments. He tweets via @Prof_Chadwick