Sponsors say Blatter resignation one step in FIFA reform

NEW YORK (AP) Adidas, Coca-Cola and other top sponsors called the resignation of FIFA’s president a welcome change, but said soccer’s governing body still must work to regain fans’ trust following a corruption scandal.

Sepp Blatter resigned Tuesday, just days after being re-elected to a fifth term as president. The soccer world was shaken after the U.S. issued indictments against 14 current or former soccer officials last week alleging corruption and fraud and the Swiss announced a criminal investigation into the votes awarding the World Cup tournaments to Russia in 2018 and to Qatar in 2022.

Blatter, who is not implicated in any of the charges, said he would step down in an acknowledgement that major change was needed at the top of FIFA.

That was a relief for sponsors, who pour millions into supporting the World Cup and other FIFA tournaments. On Tuesday, Adidas, which has provided the official match ball for every World Cup since 1970, said in a statement that ”today’s news marks a step in the right direction on FIFA’s path to establish and follow transparent compliance standards in everything they do.”

Other sponsors echoed the sentiment.

”The allegations of corruption and questionable ethics within FIFA have overshadowed the game and taken away from the sport, players and fans,” McDonald’s said. ”We’re hopeful that the changes being implemented within FIFA will be a big first step in positively reforming the organization.”

Coca-Cola said Blatter’s announcement is a ”positive step for the good of sport, football and its fans.”

Sponsors voiced harsh criticism of FIFA immediately after the corruption charges were made public. Visa even threatened to jump ship, saying it expects FIFA to take ”swift and immediate steps to address” its issues.

FIFA couldn’t ignore the criticism, as the sponsors provide almost a third of its revenues. Recent figures showed the organization generated $5.7 billion in 2011-2014, which encompassed the Brazil World Cup, with sponsors and commercial partners contributing almost $1.6 billion.

Visa reiterated Tuesday that it expects FIFA to take steps to ”rebuild a culture with strong ethical practices.”

While it’s unclear if the sponsors put pressure on Blatter to resign, the negative sentiments likely were taken under consideration in some part, said Manish Tripathi, assistant marketing professor at Emory University.

The sponsors ”make up such a large part of FIFA’s revenues, and I am sure the last thing they wanted was the negative publicity of a drawn-out public fight between Sepp and the authorities,” he said.