Our Correspondent in South Africa Takes FIFA to Task

This past summer, I had the privilege of doing an internship at Sony Music in my home country, South Africa. It was during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and Sony was one of FIFA’s main partners for the World Cup. My experience in the office was therefore colored with all of the organization and preparation that was required for the event.

During the World Cup, there was an assortment of products deemed “official” for the tournament. For music, there was an official song, an official mascot song, the official team song and the list goes on and on. Each track, however, was produced and marketed by a different record company, which created confusion in the marketplace. Technically, Sony Music was the only company permitted to have any connection with World Cup merchandise due to their licensing contract with FIFA. In other words, the phrases and acronyms “FIFA”, “World Cup”, “South Africa”, “2010” and even “Soccer” could not be used on a product unless it was released from Sony. With the persistent competition from other record companies like Universal and Warner (despite their absent license agreements), customers experienced great bewilderment about what product to buy as a memento of the special occasion.

Interestingly, these FIFA World Cup compilation records were not available in downloadable format from a computer; South Africa’s digital market was simply not yet developed enough to support it. Conversely, the “hits” from Sony’s album , i.e. Waka Waka sung by Shakira and the local band Freshlyground and Sign of Victory by R. Kelly, were readily available as mobile downloads, which is remarkably a very developed technology in South Africa. Yet, with the market so diluted with “official” releases from each major label, it was tough for Sony’s album (for which the rights were acquired) to stand out. Unless a consumer really did their homework, there would have been no way to distinguish unofficial albums from official ones. With every major label competing for the FIFA market, the oversupply created an influx of World Cup-themed disks.

Unfortunately for Sony, the entire effort of promoting “Listen Up! The Official 2010 FIFA World Cup Album” wound up losing the company a substantial amount of money. All proceeds were initially donated to FIFA’s “20 Centers for 2010” initiative⎯ an organization that instills positive social change through soccer. The overwhelming disparity in sales, caused by an unforeseen competition, virtually eliminated what was thought to cover promotional costs. But on the bright side, “20 Centers for 2010” did accomplished its mission of building twenty “Football for Hope” centers for public health, education, and soccer in South Africa and other African charities.

The question that comes to mind is whether or not it is practical to grant exclusive rights for the World Cup to just one company. It’s not to say that Sony Corporation should no longer be a FIFA partner, but rather, Sony Music should share FIFA’s responsibility in the matter. Had FIFA given the rights of the “official” album to other record companies as well, probably less confusion would have been created for consumers. Had this been the case, a more positive atmosphere among South African record companies could have existed for the betterment of the event as a whole. The official album and featured artists could have been marketed globally, since different record companies have different niche markets for their products. If FIFA had given the responsibility of handling the recording and the release of the official album to the big five companies of that country (Sony Music, Warner Music Gallo Africa (WMGA), Universal, Select and EMI), soccer music fever would have been better exploited. Everyone, including the soccer hooligans, would have likely spent more on music.

by Mia Verdoorn



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