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FIFA's suspension of Blatter, Platini likely motivated by upset sponsors

Three of FIFA's most powerful figures find themselves with plenty of spare time following one of the most dramatic chapters of the continuing corruption saga engulfing world football's governing body.

The provisional 90-day suspensions that FIFA's Ethics Committee handed out to president Sepp Blatter, secretary general Jerome Valcke and Union of European Football Associations president Michel Platini sent tremors through the football world.

The trio of officials, who deny any wrongdoing, will now try to clear their names, but this first step in what could be FIFA's much-called-for cleanup may have been spurred by the very thing that many consider the source of the organisation's problems: money.

The downfall of FIFA's head honchos (if it actually comes to fruition) likely began when four of the governing body's high-profile sponsors -- Visa, McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Budweiser -- issued statements last Friday calling for Blatter to resign.

Coca-Cola said: "For the benefit of the game, the Coca-Cola Company is calling for FIFA President Joseph Blatter to step down immediately so that a credible and sustainable reform process can begin in earnest. Every day that passes, the image and reputation of FIFA continues to tarnish."

Visa, which had already stated in May that it would consider ending its deal with FIFA following the Zurich arrests of some of its most senior officials, further turned the screw by adding: "We believe no meaningful reform can be made under FIFA's existing leadership. It's clear it would be in the best interests of FIFA and the sport for Sepp Blatter to step down immediately."

And things have moved quickly since. "The sponsors have certainly ratcheted things up, and this is one of the main reasons why the ethics committee has, for once, acted quite swiftly," according to FIFA expert professor Alan Tomlinson from the University of Brighton. "The normal procedure is for the accused to be initially heard and then, perhaps, issued with a provisional suspension, pending a full inquiry.

"The sponsors have told FIFA that they have had enough and this has had a huge impact on recent events. This whole thing has come down to money because that is the one thing that people within FIFA understand."

The world football governing body makes an estimated $177 million (£116m) a year from marketing deals with top-tier partner sponsors, which includes Visa, Adidas, Coca-Cola and Hyundai/Kia. Second-tier sponsors are believed to pay between $10m to $25m (£6.5m to £16.3m) for four-year deals relating to the World Cup. This includes McDonald's and Budweiser's parent group Anheuser Busch InBev.

Russian energy company Gazprom is estimated to have paid between $80m to $100m (£52m to £65m) to become a FIFA partner for the 2018 World Cup.

According to consultancy group IEG, FIFA earned an estimated $1.6 billion in sponsorship revenue over a four year period from 2011-2014.

FIFA does not publicly reveal how much it specifically earns from sponsorship and figures are based on estimates by industry insiders.

The appointment of Markus Kattner, FIFA's head of finance, as acting secretary general in place of Valcke, who was initially suspended from duties last month, has also been instrumental in giving sponsors a greater say in shaping the organisation's future.

Kattner has played a pivotal role in negotiating deals with commercial partners since joining FIFA in 2003 and took part in discussions with five sponsors in August after they expressed concerns about the negative headlines being generated by the organisation.

Following the end of those discussions, a core group of sponsors led by Visa continued to speak with him behind the scenes.

A former FIFA employee who worked closely with Kattner and does not wish to be named said: "He has good relations with the sponsors and understands their importance to FIFA because he comes from a financial background They have been liaising directly with him and making it clear that things have to change."

Ironically, throughout the FIFA crisis, Blatter has always pointed to the organisation's ability to turn a profit and attract high profile sponsors as proof that it is in good health.

With the Ethics Committee set to open more detailed investigations over the coming weeks, the focus on FIFA's bottom line may prove to be instrumental in deciding their fate.

Vivek Chaudhary covers FIFA and the financial side of the game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @viveksport


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