French Soccer Team Loses Support, Ads on World Cup Squabble

France’s national soccer team was criticised at home and dumped by advertisers after a bust-up between a player and the coach at the World Cup prompted team members to go on strike.

The French team, world champions in 1998 and runners-up at the last World Cup four years ago, today faces possible elimination in the first round after a draw against Uruguay and a 2-0 loss to Mexico.

“The reputation of the French team is on the line,” coach Raymond Domenech said at a press conference late yesterday. “We have to show something on the field, to chase this tiny chance of qualification that still remains.”

Striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home over the weekend after newspaper L’Equipe reported insults he’d flung at Domenech at half-time during the Mexico match. The rest of the team refused to train on Sunday in protest. The affair dominated news coverage in France and drew criticism from President Nicolas Sarkozy, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and a host of former team members.

Credit Agricole SA and hamburger chain Quick ended advertising campaigns featuring team members.

“Looking at the situation, Credit Agricole decided to suspend its current ad campaign,” the bank said in a statement yesterday.

Quick Restaurants SA, owned by buyout fund CDC Capital Investissements, halted a poster and television ad campaign featuring Anelka for its Giant Max burgers. “After Saturday’s events, we spoke to Anelka’s agents and we all agreed it was best for both sides that we withdrew the campaign,” said Quick spokeswoman Valerie Raynal.

Sponsorship Risk

To qualify, France must beat South Africa in its final match today, and hope that Uruguay beats Mexico in the other group match, with the margin of victory in both games adding up to at least four goals. London-based William Hill has 8-1 odds against France qualifying.

“It’s all part of the risk you take on when you sponsor a team,” said Renaud Vaschalde, a Paris-based industry analyst at market researcher NPD Group. “Football is not just a sport but a game, with all the resulting elements of chance and luck and ups and downs.”

Nike Inc., the world’s largest maker of athletic shoes, next year will replace Adidas AG as the French national team’s shirt supplier, having agreed in 2007 to a 42.7 million euro ($52 million) contract running from 2011 through 2018.

Nike could pay even more if France performs well at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. Derek Kent, a spokesman for Nike based in Beaverton, Oregon, declined to comment.

TV Rights

Not all is lost for Nike, Vaschalde said.

“This is a seven-year contract, and it’s normal that over the course of seven years a team has its ups and downs,” he said.

“The latest development is hurting the French team’s reputation,” Adidas CEO Herbert Hainer said yesterday at a press conference in Herzogenaurach, where the company is based.

Societe Television Francaise 1, the French TV channel which has spent 87 million euros on exclusive rights and another 6 million to 7 million euros on production, may take a hit of 40 million euros if the team is eliminated, La Tribune reported yesterday, without citing anyone.

TF1 declined to comment on the numbers. In an interview with Le Parisien newspaper today, TF1 Chief Executive Nonce Paolini said “the absence of the French team in the second round would deny us extra revenue, but we had planned for this scenario.”

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Lagarde, the finance minister, said on a LCI television talk show on June 20 that she was “dismayed” by the events surrounding the team, adding that it wouldn’t have an impact on the French economy.

“There might be an impact on some sectors, but we tried to measure the effect of the World Cup win in 1998 and we couldn’t,” she said. “Football is not the only thing in life, even if it feels that way sometimes.”

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