FIFA Marketing: Under new management
In a move that could mark a change of commercial tack at soccer's world governing body a senior and vastly experienced television executive has taken over at FIFA's in-house commercial unit.
Although it is too early to tell whether this means as well as handling its own sponsorship and marketing contracts FIFA will end the practise of using third parties to sell its television rights, the appointment of well-respected Jérôme Valcke as director of the FIFA Business Division will raise a few eyebrows.
Valcke takes over from Michael Thomson who has led FIFA Marketing, a wholly-owned subsidiary of FIFA, since April following the departure earlier this year of chief executive officer Patrick Magyar.
The appointment of the 42-year-old Frenchman is notable because of his strong television background and the fact that FIFA Marketing's main concern is sponsorship.
Valcke joined French TV channel Canal+ as a journalist in 1984, before rising through the ranks to become the channel's deputy head of sport in 1991.
In 1997 he moved to Sport+, the broadcaster's sports rights acquisition arm, where he stayed as CEO until 2002, while he ha salso worked as chief operating officer of Sportfive, a sports rights agency.
In terms of FIFA's overall organisation, Valcke will report directly to general secretary Urs Linsi, the right hand man of FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
FIFA Marketing was formed in April 2001 following the catastrophic collapse of the world governing body's then television and marketing partner ISL.
FIFA Marketing was charged with handling and attracting sponsors for all FIFA events, while the television rights once held by ISL became the responsibility of German company Kirch.
Last year Kirch endured its own crisis and FIFA's television rights, including the all important worldwide rights to the 2006 World Cup, are now in the control of Infront Sports and Media, a Swiss-based company created by former Kirch executives.
Being the director of the FIFA Business Division, and not simply the CEO of FIFA Marketing, appears to imply that Valcke will be keeping a closer eye on Infront's television sales and not simply FIFA's sponsorship activities.
Jon Wigley, a leading sports marketing expert, who has held senior positions with athletics' governing body the IAAF and tennis' ATP, told Soccernet that the appointment does not necessarily mark a significant departure and feels that Valcke has the perfect experience for the job.
'His background makes absolute sense, because he comes with a strong track record in commercial TV where understanding the value of media rights, taking care of your commercial partners, and connecting with your end users, is a prerequisite.
'He will instinctively understand the need to integrate commercial partners and media partners into the marketing mix with creativity and depth'.
Wigley also believes that there is no need for Infront to be concerned that Valacke's appointment could lead to FIFA taking their television rights sales in-house once their contract expires following the 2006 World Cup.
'I don't believe that the guys at Infront will see this as a worry; more of a great opportunity to develop the marketing value of the FIFA Programme yet further.
'The fragmentation of media presents great challenges for FIFA - as with other major sports governing bodies, such as the IOC, UEFA, the IAAF etc - but also wonderful long-term opportunities. I believe Jerome would see that and be pushing to maximise those assets'.
The biggest challenge facing Valcke from Wigley's point of view will be adapting to working within an international governing body.
'People complain that there is too much politics - well what do you expect from a body that has its highest authority defined by elections! It's the oxygen that is necessary to function.
'Jerome will have to steer his way through that, and lead his Marketing Team to the highest levels of Corporate excellence. It's a challenging balancing act'.
Perhaps Valcke's predecessor Patrick Magyar had the perfect background for the delivery of sports sponsorship having formerly been Head of Marketing & Rights Delivery for ISL, where he organised the commercial delivery of high-profile football events, including the World Cup and UEFA's European Championships.
But perhaps Valcke has the perfect background to head FIFA's Business Division and the dual sponsorship and television remit the position undoubtedly has.