Global soccer federation Fifa, which has struggled to attract commercial partners since its reputation was rocked by corruption scandals, announced that Russia's Alfa Bank will be a regional sponsor for the World Cup 2018.
Alfa Bank, which is controlled by billionaire Mikhail Fridman, is one of the top two private banks in Russia with 745 offices and branches. Fifa said Alfa would "activate sponsorship initiatives" around the World Cup in Russia, but it did not say how much the deal is worth.
The lender will support Fifa on a number of ticketing-related projects with the aim of enhancing services to fans, according to a statement from the sporting body.
"The staging of the Fifa World Cup and the Fifa Confederations Cup requires many banking services, not just for the fans but also for the organisers," said Fifa Secretary General Fatma Samoura. "So it is very important for us to be able to count on the expertise and vast network of Alfa Bank in Russia."
Alfa chairman Petr Aven said being a regional partner offers Alfa Bank the opportunity to acquire new customers via an extension of services to the many football fans attending the tournament.
Fifa's commercial strategy offers as many as four Regional Supporter packages for each of the five global regions: Europe, North America, South America, the Middle East and Africa as well as Asia. All companies who sign up as a Regional Supporter receive the key benefits of all sponsors, including LED board exposure during the events, access to tickets and brand association rights for their respective region.
Fifa was rocked by scandal last year after criminal investigations were launched into the sport in the US, where several dozen former officials were indicted.
It was also forced to overhaul its bidding process after a December 2010 vote awarded the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to Russia and Qatar respectively.
Gianni Infantino was elected to the Fifa presidency in February after promising greater funding for the federation's 211 member associations during his campaign. He said increasing sponsorship revenue would be a priority for his presidency.
Fridman, whose $15bn fortune makes him Russia's second-richest man, told the Financial Times over lunch on April 1 that he is on a mission to improve the image of his country's business elite. "It's our moral duty to become a global player, to prove a Russian can transform into an international businessman," he said.
Dubbed the 'Teflon Oligarch' in a bne IntelliNews profile, Fridman is a survivor from the wild ride of 1990s capitalism in Russia. Many of his peers have been incarcerated, exiled or had their assets seized, but Fridman lives a charmed life, retaining much of his wealth without falling foul of the Kremlin. Now the Alfa Group founder has moved to London and is seemingly defying an edict to repatriate Russian wealth by splurging billions on foreign assets.
A total of 11 Russian cities will host the World Cup, but not all venues are yet ready for the event and some of them are badly behind schedule. President Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to take urgent measures to speed up preparations, according to a report by news agency RIA on July 18.
Russia's participation in the recent European Championships was marred by hooliganism of accompanying fans and the poor performance of the national football team. As hosts, Russia will not have to undergo qualifying for the event.