As we eagerly await the start of the 2022 FIFA men’s World Cup on Sunday, with host nation Qatar facing Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al-Khor, MTM take a sideways look at the tournament, examining some of the key marketing and fandom stories emerging during the build-up.

Marketing in the face of controversy

The global scale of the 2022 tournament is expected to be bigger than ever before. FIFA president Gianni Infantino has predicted that the 2022 tournament could be the most-watched in history, with an expected global audience of around 5 billion people. In contrast, the 2018 tournament in Russia was watched by 3.57 billion across the tournament.

The prospect of sponsoring a tournament with an unprecedented global reach will feel alluring to many companies, demonstrated by the continued sponsorship from leading brands including Adidas, Coca-Cola and Hyundai. However, clouds of concern lie over this year’s tournament, due to the widely publicised mistreatment of migrant workers in the host nation, and repression that the LGBTQIA+ community face. This will, to some degree, frame the thinking of some brands looking for sponsorship opportunities on one of the world’s biggest sporting stages.

Existing sponsors of the tournament are also acutely aware of the public debate around the tournament, and many are adopting a neutral stance to avoid any negative media associations being made with their brand. For example, Coca-Cola’s adverts have made little reference to Qatar as hosts, instead focusing on the fandom and that Believing is Magic.

The mixture of FIFA sponsors has also changed for this tournament, reflective of the global shifts during the past four years. For example, a new sponsor for this year’s tournament is crypto.com, a cryptocurrency trading platform, which is part of an industry that has seen rapid growth in the past four years. Another notable change, is that many of the biggest sponsorship deals for the tournament are not with Western brands. FIFA is relying heavily on Chinese sponsorship deals, with the likes of Vivo, Hisense, Mengniu & Wanda Group. Chinese companies are providing more revenue for FIFA in commercial deals than companies from any other country, providing around $207m worth of revenue, around a third of the total revenue.

Fan sentiment towards an unfamiliar World Cup

A standout distinction of the 2022 FIFA World Cup is that it is the first tournament to take place in the northern hemisphere’s winter. Major domestic leagues across Europe are pausing fixtures whilst the tournament takes centre stage for the next 6 weeks. However, in the UK, not all leagues and competitions are taking a break. Only the Premier League & Championship are pausing, and many competitions like League One, League Two, The FA Cup & the Women’s Super League all continue to play fixtures.

Fan opinion towards the tournament’s timing and fixture repercussions has been mixed in the UK. According to GWI data, only 31% of football fans in the UK actually support the World Cup taking place in the winter, whereas 37% are opposed, highlighting the discomfort towards the change to tradition. November & December are typically periods of the British football calendar where games come thick and fast, so it’s not surprising that the change in schedule has upset some fans. Recent data has also shown that 34% of UK fans plan to watch fewer matches compared to the 2018 tournament, so there is an expectation that fans’ discomfort will have a direct impact on viewership.

As for the action on the pitch, it is expected to be one of the most competitive yet. Current bookies odds from 888sport put Brazil as favourites to win the tournament at 4/1, followed by Argentina at 5/1 & France at 6/1. Home nations of England & Wales are currently 8/1 & 150/1 respectively to take home the coveted Jules Rimet trophy.