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No Alcohol (Advertising), no World Cup? – FIFA's influence on alcohol regulation

So far, the World Cup 2018 has been full of surprises. Russia as the lowest-ranked team in the competition have made it to the quarter-finals. Argentina and Germany have both crashed out and England won a penalty shoot-out!

Soccer fans might have noticed another surprising fact while cheering for their team: beer is heavily promoted throughout the World Cup matches in the stadium and very visible on TV. How does this come together with the fact that Russia has been continuously restricting its law on alcohol advertisement?

In response to riots of Russian fans during the World Cup 2002, the sale of alcohol in soccer stadiums and at other sport events was banned. In 2004, Russia banned advertisement for beer in stadiums and advertisement spots throughout the evening program on TV. A year later, depicting beer with humans or animals was prohibited, followed by a general ban for beer advertisement. In 2014, the Russian Parliament suddenly repealed the law so that during public sport events, beer may now be legally advertised. It is not hard to guess which public sport event the Russian delegates must have had in mind when passing the amendment. Still, what is it about the World Cup that motivates a nation to throw its alcohol restrictions overboard, given it ranked fourth in the World Health Organisation's most recent statistics on alcohol consumption? 

Money was surely a strong motivating factor. The costs of the World Cup 2018 in Russia are estimated at more than €10 billion and international beer producers traditionally are the major sponsors in football. Advertising revenue is generally needed to render large-scale projects profitable. According to estimates of the Dutch brewery, Heineken, Russian breweries are likely to invest more than a €100 million in beer advertisements throughout the World Cup. 

Far more persuasive, however, must have been FIFA's strong position on alcohol: "Alcoholic drinks are part of the FIFA World Cup, so we're going to have them", stated FIFA's secretary Jerome Valcke in 2012. "The fact that we have the right to sell beer has to be part of the law." Although lobbying lawmakers is customary and justified to a certain extent, the undisguised clarity of interference of the FIFA is quite surprising - even more so given a nation's policy on health protection measures is a sensitive matter. "It is inappropriate", finds Chris Brookes, Director of the UK Health Forum, "that FIFA can demand countries relax rules which protect their citizens and in particular children from the harm caused by alcohol."

Russia tried to mitigate the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption by issuing a ban on the sale of alcohol on match-days and the day before. But the impact of FIFA's position on alcohol naturally doesn't stop at country borders when a World Cup is in question. The advertisement of beer in the stadium is broadcast to any country irrespective of local alcohol regulations on advertisement and consumption. This conflict could only be prevented by making use of a double production that is already common in the broadcast of soccer matches or by virtual advertising. 

"Double production" means the technique that cameras are placed on each side of the pitch, while each nation's TV audience only has the perspective of one pitch side. This way, beer brands could advertise their products on the side of the pitch that is not visible for the nations with a strict regulation on alcohol advertisement, whereas spectators of nations with loose laws on alcohol could still be targeted by the beer advertising present on one side of the pitch.

Another way to work around this problem could be virtual advertising that enables different brands to occupy the same space on perimeter boards marketing to different audiences. For example, you could have beer advertisement virtually layered on a perimeter board in the broadcast to a country where this is legal, and advertising for a completely different product virtually layered over on the same perimeter board in the broadcast to a country where alcohol advertisement is banned. This way, each nation's specific laws would be respected while the multiple distribution of branding slots has the potential to boost advertising revenue at the same time. Augmented reality in the context of advertising offers many possibilities to add value for rights holders. 


Portrait ofSebastian Cording
Dr. Sebastian Cording