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Fifa World Cup signs on China dairy producer Mengniu as sponsor

[SHANGHAI] Fifa has signed up China's second-largest dairy company as a sponsor for the 2018 Russia World Cup, the fourth such backer from the country as international soccer's governing body works to overcome the tarnish from a bribery scandal.

China Mengniu Dairy Co will become a second-tier sponsor, earning the right to broadcast a seven-minute commercial during each of the 64 World Cup matches in 2018, the Inner Mongolia-based company told reporters on Wednesday in Beijing. The company joins Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group Co, consumer electronics maker Hisense Group Corp and smartphone maker Vivo as sponsors.

Mengniu's emergence as another Fifa backer from China is prompting some speculation the world's most populous country may campaign to host a tournament.

The shift in global sponsorship deals is "a sign of China just beginning to flex a little more financial muscle within Fifa with half an eye on the 2030 Fifa World Cup hosting rights," said Jon Tibbs, a sports-brand and communications specialist and chairman of JTA.

Backers have signed on more slowly for the 2018 competition than for previous tournaments amid fallout from the 2015 corruption scandal involving Fifa, which controls media and marketing rights and decides where the potentially lucrative tournaments will be held. Prosecutors have said soccer officials took almost US$200 million in bribes from sports-marketing executives in the Americas seeking media and marketing rights to tournaments. The scandal unseated top leaders at Fifa and cast a shadow over the World Cup.

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"The 2018 event still needs two more sponsors," Fifa chief commercial officer Philippe le Floc'h said.

"We have one in the pipeline, which is not a Chinese company. For the other one, we have various options."

For Mengniu, which derives most of its sales from China but is seeking to expand more aggressively overseas, the commercials it can run during the 2018 World Cup give it exposure to the world's 2.7 billion soccer fans.

"This is a very important step for Mengniu to become global, and to rebuild the world's confidence for China's dairy industry," Lu Minfang, the milk company's chief executive officer, told reporters. Chinese dairy companies were roiled a decade ago by a scandal that poisoned thousands of children.


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