Soccer Sponsors Praise Blatter's Surprise Resignation From FIFA

Suddenly Bud Light Lime Tastes Like Champagne to John Oliver

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Major soccer sponsors on Tuesday said they supported Sepp Blatter's sudden decision to resign as president of FIFA, the association that governs the world's most popular sport.

Mr. Blatter unexpectedly announced plans to step down amid a spreading corruption probe just four days after winning re-election. The 79-year-old said he will call a special congress sometime between December and March to elect his successor as president of FIFA, a position he has held since 1998.

"We welcome FIFA's commitment to change," Adidas said in a statement. "As stated before, the adidas Group is fully committed to creating a culture that promotes the highest standards of ethics and compliance. Today's news marks a step in the right direction on FIFA's path to establish and follow transparent compliance standards in everything they do."

Coca-Cola, meanwhile, said it respected Mr. Blatter's decision. "The announcement today is a positive step for the good of sport, football and its fans," the company said in a statement. "Our expectation remains that FIFA will continue to act with urgency to take concrete actions to fully address all of the issues that have been raised and win back the trust of all who love the sport of football. We believe this decision will help FIFA transform itself rapidly into a much-needed 21st century structure and institution."

McDonald's echoed the sentiment. "The allegations of corruption and questionable ethics within FIFA have overshadowed the game and taken away from the sport, players and fans," it said. "We're hopeful that the changes being implemented within FIFA will be a big first step in positively reforming the organization and gaining back trust from fans worldwide."

And Anheuser-Busch InBev said it hoped Mr. Blatter's exit would help the "beauty of the game" again take center stage. "We expect today's announcement to accelerate FIFA's efforts to resolve internal issues, install positive change and adhere to the highest ethical standards and transparency," it said.

And HBO host John Oliver weighed in on Twitter, after previously begging FIFA sponsors to force out Mr. Blatter, an event he said would be glorious enough to transform Bud Light Lime from tasting like "a puddle beneath a Long John Silver's dumpster" to "fucking champagne":

An Anheuser-Busch InBev spokeswoman seemed ready for the company to share in the credit, tweeting back to Mr. Oliver, "Time to drink your words, sir!"

It's not clear, however, whether sponsor pressure played a role in Mr. Blatter's decision. Last week marketers were stepping carefully and did not call publicly for his departure.

His $1 billion-a-year empire started crumbling as soon as Swiss police acting on U.S. extradition requests roused senior officials from their beds in a luxury hotel last week. As his organization became the subject of a criminal investigation, support drained away.

"Although the members of FIFA have given me a new mandate and re-elected me president, this mandate doesn't seem to be supported by everybody in the world of football," Mr. Blatter said Tuesday in Zurich. "I appreciate and love FIFA more than anything else and I only want to do the best for football and for FIFA, our institution."

As president of FIFA, the French acronym for Federation Internationale de Football Association, Mr. Blatter's tenure was marked by controversy, most recently surrounding the selection of Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Ultimately it was his undoing.

Shortly after his announcement, speculation surfaced that one of Mr. Blatter's challengers for last week's presidential election, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, would seek the presidency. Tarek Khoury, a member of Jordan's soccer association, also announced on his Twitter page that Prince Ali will seek the presidency.

$10 million payment
It emerged Tuesday that FIFA's No. 2 official under Mr. Blatter authorized a $10 million payment that U.S. prosecutors have characterized as a bribe, a person familiar with the matter said.

Jerome Valcke, FIFA's secretary general, is the official described in an indictment who made payments from FIFA to bank accounts in New York that were overseen by Jack Warner, the longtime head of Concacaf, the Central American and North American soccer confederation, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the matter wasn't public.

Neither Mr. Valcke nor other senior management were involved in the "initiation, approval and implementation" of the payment, FIFA said in a statement Tuesday. It said the 2008 transfer was approved by the finance committee chairman. At the time that was Julio Grondona, an Argentine who died last year at age 82, while Mr. Warner was deputy chairman.

Michel Platini, who heads Europe's soccer governing body and called on Mr. Blatter to quit last week said in a statement his announcement was "a brave decision and the right decision."

Caribbean shift
Though Mr. Blatter hasn't been charged, nine FIFA officials and 5 others were among 14 people named in U.S. indictments last week. Swiss and American officials opened investigations into FIFA, alleging corruption, racketeering and other misdeeds in the group's management and surrounding its decision to award the next two World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

Support for Mr. Blatter to extend his 17 years in the job weakened as longtime backers in the Caribbean shifted their support to Prince Ali.

The U.S. and Canada announced support for the Jordanian prince, while South American delegates said the group may not vote as a bloc. European governing body UEFA had considered a boycott of the vote. Its chief, former French international Michel Platini, publicly urged Mr. Blatter to resign.

Reaction to Mr. Blatter's resignation from around the soccer world came swiftly.

"All the corrupted directors from the federations will feel his departure as a tsunami," Brazil's 1994 World Cup winner Romario wrote in his Facebook page. "This is the best news of the recent times!"

Blatter's departure means a new era for world's soccer is starting, others said.

"It's a good day for world football," said John Delaney, chief executive of Ireland's soccer association, in an interview on Irish television. Delaney called for Blatter to quit last week. "It's now important when the debate moves on that we use the opportunity to change the culture of FIFA, because we can see that the culture of FIFA was one of corruption, was one of bribery -- nothing to do with the beautiful game. More to do with, as I described it last week, a mafia movie than football."

~ Bloomberg News with Ad Age staff ~

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