Thought Leadership

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Coca-Cola’s World Cup Sponsorship: Too Big To….Opt Out?

The Questionable Morality of Sponsorship

By Steve Feuerstein

NEW YORK, New York – December 6, 2022
​ — The 2008 economic crisis ushered in the oft repeated household refrain too big to fail. Our ostensible nationalization, albeit temporary, of several blue-chip auto manufacturers and financial institutions jolted America to its capitalist core.

There’s another “too big to” paradox rearing its head at the World Cup in Qatar and it is one that poses serious, unpleasant questions to any student of sports marketing - in fact, any student of ethics. Once a corporate sponsor has pledged its capital resources, in-kind services, and activation spend, should that sponsorship commitment be viewed as an irreversible fait accompli, earning it a free pass to conduct business as usual?

Alternatively put, are there any conditions which might compel a brand to wash its hands of a sponsorship turned messy and call it a day? Or is an international stage like the present World Cup seemingly too big to opt out of, regardless of the diametrically opposed values on display by its host nation Qatar?

Coca-Cola lends itself well to explore the conundrum facing the 14 official partners and sponsors of the competition, including McDonald’s, Visa, and Adidas, that have perennially been the financial lifeline of global and national sports assets alike.

The Atlanta-based superbrand is investing well over $200 million in its rights fees and marketing spend. The World Cup was supposed to be about implementing strategies that uniquely strengthen the relationship with Coca-Cola’s soccer-loving consumers.

How is it possible that Coke, such a seasoned expert in sponsorship, might have so miscalculated when agreeing to its starring role in the stadiums in Qatar? How did a company committed to social impact so overtly dismiss its consumers’ concerns about a misaligned association with the absolute monarchy of Qatar?

6 Coca Cola in various colors lined  up horizontally.

A 2022 Gallup poll of 12,000 respondents reported that 21% of Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQ. Forrester Research’s 2021 findings confirmed that over 50% of Gen Zers will only shop with brands that are in sync with their own social responsibility values. At over 68 million strong, or 20% of the US population, that’s a heavyweight demographic to butt up against. One would think that Coca-Cola would be concerned.

Brands are often quick to point out that their presence in troubled sports waters often calms them; that they have the ability to tame the beast, if you will, leading to positive political reform, through what this writer labels “sportsfluence.”

But this is nothing less than corporate fantasy. One need only reflect upon Beijing’s hosting of the Winter Olympic Games while mass interning Uyghers Muslims and engaging in ongoing human rights abuses in Hong Kong. A quick refresher: the Chinese hosted the 2008 Summer Games, after which individual freedoms there rapidly receded.

Another illustration of an event that failed to curb the expansionist appetite of an autocratic regime is the 2018 World Cup in Sochi, Russia. In its quest for regional hegemony, an emboldened Kremlin has thrown parts of Europe into mayhem, while most recently sentencing American WNBA star Britany Griener to 9 years in a penal colony. So much for the power of sponsors and their ability to flex muscle and foster change through sportsfluencing.

But the World Cup in Doha seems to have hit a nerve that China somehow skirted. Perhaps it was the Cup’s Qatari ambassador who recently denounced homosexuals as being “damaged in the mind.” Maybe it was the bone-chilling, painful realization that an estimated 6,500 migrant workers tragically died in Qatar to bring this fleeting competition to life. Perhaps it was the admission of former FIFA president Sepp Blatter that a $19B arms deal between France and host Gulf nation was behind la République’s 4 swing votes in favor of Qatar, erasing all hopes of US glory in 2022.

So what does all this mean for a corporation like Coca-Cola which so proudly touts its “enduring” commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as well as propriety and fair dealing in business?  Through the brand’s own admission, these coveted principles “are at the heart of our values and our growth strategy and play an important part in our company's success”  and are so ingrained in its corporate culture “through both its policies and actions.” These are direct quotes from the company’s corporate website.

The reality on the ground in Qatar versus the bubbly, heartfelt expression of alliance with the US-based LGBTQ community stand as polar opposites. Coca-Cola’s sponsorship will be perceived by many as an indictment of its long-standing social responsibility vision. It further exposes a disturbing truth about the questionable morality of sponsorship: many marketers view the brand benefits of topflight sports events as simply far too big to ever opt out.

About Steve Feuerstein

Steve Feuerstein is a 30-year veteran of the sports marketing and sponsorship industry. A former rights owner of professional sports events and agent to athletes, he founded SportsBiz to develop 21st-Century solutions steeped in AI and machine learning previously unavailable to corporate sponsors. SportsBiz develops dynamic software solutions that serve sponsors of professional sports, collegiate sports, and eSports. Soon-to-be-released solutions include Social Impact, Metaverse, BrandMatch, and Campaign Recommendation Engine.

SportsBiz’s Ground-Breaking SaaS Platform Empowers Brands to Maximize Sports Sponsorship


NEW YORK, November 16, 2022-
With the World Cup less than a week away, sports sponsorship will be at its peak exposure as global brands aim to align with the buying behavior of this flagship event’s estimated five billion viewers. Enter SportsBiz. Its end-to-end SaaS suite empowers sponsors in the $100B industry to match with optimal sports assets, maximize all dollars invested, and measure the value of their sponsorship investment without bias. SportsBiz launched this month with an industry-first TV, Web, and Social Media solution, one that enables brands to become their own in-house agency and make actionable decisions at a fraction of the time and cost.

But how do corporate brands know that this high-profile sponsorship or local ATP tennis tournament or hometown NFL team or star athlete are commercially-wise optimal choices? What can they do to stand out among the dozens of "super sponsors" that aim to maximize their ROI for the same sports asset? Moreover, how can a sponsor be certain that a prospective sports sponsorship aligns with its social responsibility practices and avoid any unexpected pitfalls, many of which are on display at the World Cup? And ultimately, how do they know the actual bottom line: What value did the overall sponsorship spend tangibly generate?

According to leading sports economist Dan Rascher, author of Financial Management in the Sport Industry, SportsBiz’s pioneering software platform is a "game-changing solution that is finally going to keep the industry honest, and dramatically and objectively increase sponsorship ROI."

A 30-year veteran of the sponsorship industry, Steve Feuerstein recognized a void and embarked on a multi-year tech mission. He created SportsBiz to develop 21st-Century solutions steeped in AI and machine learning not yet realized in the industry. BrandMatch, SponsorMax, and AssetROI are the platform’s three primary products.

"The business of sports is facing the most transformative and disruptive period in its history. Corporate brands often sacrifice up to 50% of all sponsorship dollars invested while attempting to leverage a meaningful, unique connection between the brand and the consumer’s passions for sport," remarked Feuerstein, the company’s Founder and CEO. "Corporate brands have waited decades for an unbiased remedy that will demonstrably increase sponsorship value," Feuerstein added.

SportsBiz launched its flagship software solution after conducting a pilot for Wells Fargo’s long-standing title sponsorship of the Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA Tour, showcasing 50 actionable strategic recommendations. Its platform positioned Wells Fargo to gain $3M+ in additional television, web, and social media value - 120 times the price of a solution investment.

With significant disruption taking place in the industry and increased demand for sponsorship accountability, the future bodes well for SportsBiz and its DeepSport platform. "DeepSport Solutions is a remarkable software platform that empowers sponsors unlike any other in the industry," commented Keena Turner, VP & Senior Advisor to GM of the San Francisco 49ers and 4-time Super Bowl Champion with that franchise.

About SportsBiz Group Inc. & DeepSport Solutions Software Platform

SportsBiz developsdynamic software solutions that serve sponsors of professional sports, collegiate sports, and eSports. Soon-to-be-released solutionsinclude Social Impact, Metaverse, BrandMatch, and Campaign Recommendation Engine. Learn more at

Contact: Dave Whorton | Limited Exclusive Solution Demonstrations | Available Upon Request

Dave Whorton, Founder & CRO