FIFA Cab’s Chevy Logo Covered by Staff Member Protecting Sponsor

When FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke arrived at the new stadium in Manaus, Brazil, to promote a program that taught the World Cup city’s taxi drivers English, his cab was decorated with black tape.

He was riding in a General Motors Co. Chevrolet, and the World Cup’s automobile sponsor is Hyundai Motor Co. A local official covered all the logos with tape, even though there was no contractual reason for doing so.

Rafael Maranhao, a press liaison with the local organizing committee in Rio de Janeiro, said he did it. “I was basically taking a precaution,” he said. “It turns out there was no rules.”

The Feb. 16 incident highlights the pressure to protect the rights of sponsors who last year paid FIFA about $350 million for World Cup-related sponsorships. The monthlong tournament, which is costing Brazil 25.6 billion reais ($11 billion) begins in Sao Paulo on June 12.

“Taping up a car because it’s not a Hyundai is a classic example of what is bad in terms of sponsoring in the first place,” Patrick Nally, a consultant who brokered Coca-Cola Co.’s first deal with FIFA in 1976, said in a telephone interview.

“Sponsors want to generate good will through a brand connection with excitement of the World Cup. The last thing they want are ridiculous attempts by overzealous officials going over the top like this.”

Hyundai Motor America spokesman Chris Hosford didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

At previous World Cup tournaments some fans wearing T-shirts with brands that weren’t affiliated with FIFA were told to remove them. Some Netherlands fans at the World Cup in Germany in 2006 were asked to remove their orange trousers because they carried the name of Dutch beer Bavaria NV, which isn’t a FIFA sponsor.

Ambush Dresses

The beer company got into the spotlight again at the last World Cup in South Africa four years ago when a group of women wearing orange dresses provided by the company were arrested for ambush marketing following a game between the Netherlands and Denmark.

Nally said such actions highlight ambush marketing activities, and hurt official sponsors who don’t want to be seen backing heavy-handed treatment.

“It’s a fear factor,” he said. “It goes down the line in terms of people being over exuberant because they think they’re impressing bosses without understanding what it’s about.”

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