Sponsors of Belgium's national football team are subtly adapting their messaging for this year's World Cup to avoid backlash from those concerned about host Qatar's human rights violations, l'Echo has reported.
The adjustment involves advertisers tailoring their messaging by virtually excluding any reference to Qatar and focussing exclusively on the national football team itself.
"We really hope that Belgians make this distinction between us, who support the Belgian Football Association, of which no one has any complaints, and the regime in Qatar and FIFA," said Aurélie Gerth, a spokeswoman for Carrefour, one of the Red Devils' fourteen official sponsors.
Gerth's words were echoed by ING, another of the Red Devils' major advertisers.
"Our image is not linked to the event," said an ING spokesperson. "Our support permeates throughout Belgian football, with national, amateur, and women's football teams. Moreover, our partnership is scheduled to run for a period of 5 years and not over the period of a single sporting event."
The Red Devils: still attractive prospect?
According to Manu Leroy, the Marketing Director of the Royal Belgian Football Association, the controversial location of this year's World Cup has had little impact on the Red Devils' overall marketing appeal.
"We have not noticed any consequences on the attractiveness of the Red Devils," said Leroy. "On the contrary, eight of our partners have announced, or will soon announce, extensions of their partnerships with the Belgian Football Association."
Leroy's words were corroborated by Carrefour's spokeswoman, who claimed that the French supermarket chain was "currently very happy with our relationship with the Belgian Football Association", as well as the spokesperson for ING, who stated that the Dutch multinational bank's ambition is to go "even further" in its partnership with the Red Devils.
Indeed, according to l'Echo, the Royal Belgian Football Association's sponsorship revenues have increased by a whopping 90% over the past four years. On the eve of last year's European Championships, the newspaper reported that a sponsorship deal with the Belgian Football Association cost between €500,000 and €1 million. Such a deal is expected to be worth even more today.
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"We are still on the rise [in terms of sponsorship revenues], but we know that we will inevitably reach a plateau, at one time or another," said Leroy.
This year's World Cup is taking place against the backdrop of extremely limited interest — and even open boycotts of — the tournament across much of Europe. Within Belgium, it is believed that this indifference is related to concerns over Qatar's human rights abuses, pessimism over the possibility of Belgium's aging football team actually winning the competition, and the tournament taking place in winter rather than over the summer.