Soccer Indictments Outline Schemes Involving Sports Marking Firms

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Most of the charges relate to bribes paid by sports marketing executives to secure lucrative marketing and media rights. One of the companies named has its North American headquarters in Miami.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And there are other companies with a lot on their minds right now - FIFA's big sponsors, which tie their brands to the sport and its organizers. With more on the potential fallout they face, here's NPR's Jason Margolis.

JASON MARGOLIS, BYLINE: Coca-Cola, Adidas, Visa and Hyundai are FIFA's main long-term sponsors. They're not saying much about yesterday's corruption charges. None agreed to an interview. Visa did release a brief statement expressing disappointment in FIFA. The company said it will, quote, "reassess our sponsorship" if FIFA doesn't take immediate steps to address issues within its organization. An Adidas spokesperson sent a brief email saying Adidas is committed to creating a culture that promotes the highest standards of ethics and compliance, and we expect the same from our partners. They wouldn't comment further.

MIKE LEWIS: I actually think it's probably enough in this day and age - I mean, the expression of concern that they're monitoring the situation.

MARGOLIS: Mike Lewis specializes in sports marketing at Emory University. He says sponsors need to emphasize that they're supporting the game itself.

LEWIS: And so I think for the vast majority of fans, you know, Coca-Cola is connected to the stars on the field, not the administrators in the back office.

MARGOLIS: Political scientist Andrei Markovits takes things a step further. He teaches a class about sports, politics and society at the University of Michigan.

ANDREI MARKOVITS: If FIFA were run by child molesters, mass murderers and - I don't know - some other heinous folks, it would have zero effect on my soccer watching - zero - and I'm not the exception.

MARGOLIS: He says Coke and Adidas know what fans are like, and they know what FIFA is like, too.

MARKOVITS: Everyone knows these organizations are crooked. This is known. This is how you procure votes. This is totally not news.

MARGOLIS: Still, there is some pressure on sponsors to disassociate from FIFA. Activists are calling on them to challenge FIFA's decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and are sharply critical of alleged human rights abuses at construction sites in that country. Hundreds of guest workers have died there in the past five years. Three sponsors did walk away from the FIFA earlier this year - Johnson & Johnson, Castrol and Continental Tires. I contacted all three. They sent brief emails basically saying it was a business decision. Andrei Markovits says sponsors like Coke will distance themselves from FIFA soccer when fans distance themselves.

MARKOVITS: If in fact Coke actually realizes that, boy, this is bad enough and we're really worried that somehow people will not watch the World Cup then yes, but...

MARGOLIS: No way that's happening. More than 900 million people watched the World Cup final. That's nearly eight times as many as the Super Bowl. Jason Margolis, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.