Brazilian football faces crisis as sponsors cut and run

. Apr 06, 2020
Brazilian football faces crisis as sponsors cut and run Photo: Serhii Ivashchuk/Shutterstock

Hello, and welcome back to the Brazil Sports newsletter. Isolation continues, and new developments with sponsors and broadcasters but the survival of a number of Brazilian football clubs at even more risk. Plus, with sports channels replaying classic matches to fill airtime, we take our own trip down memory lane and recount the tale of the 1970 World Cup Final.

Can Brazilian football survive the Covid-19 pandemic?

We mentioned in recent weeks that only a handful of Brazilian clubs had the cashflow necessary to weather the Covid-19 storm and the loss of revenue it will cause. The outlook has gotten even worse, however, with news that sponsors and broadcasters are planning on pulling funding.

TV money. Brazilian broadcasting giant TV Globo has announced it has indefinitely suspended payments of broadcasting rights money for the country’s state championships, which have been interrupted and may go unfinished. Even for Brazil’s biggest sides, TV money represents a massive proportion of overall revenue, particularly at a time when gate receipts are nonexistent. For smaller sides, it is practically their only source of income.

TV money 2. Beyond Globo, competitor Turner has sent a letter out to the eight clubs with which it has individual broadcasting agreements for the Brazilian championship, stating that negotiations will get underway to terminate these contracts. In 2019, Turner broadcast matches from the national championship on its digital channels Esporte Interativo, TNT, and Space. Reportedly, however, the American company is no longer satisfied with its viewing figures and revenue.

Cut and run. Beyond broadcasting rights, football clubs in Brazil rely on the support of myriad sponsors, each paying for a little scrape on teams’ increasingly overcrowded jerseys, and often doing so in short-term contracts. For the vast majority of these companies, the only way they will see a return from these investments is from exposure on television. Without games, there is no reason for them to pump money into sponsorships.

Crying over spilled oil. A report from newspaper Estadão shows that olive oil company Azeite Royal is planning to ditch its sponsorship contracts of Rio de Janeiro’s big four sides, while Corinthians and Santos have also lost investment from firms affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amazon. The coronavirus outbreak may also have nixed a potentially huge sponsorship deal between e-commerce giant Amazon and Brazilian champions Flamengo. Globoesporte reported in March that the two parties were close to signing a BRL 40 million a year deal for Amazon to become Flamengo’s main shirt sponsor, but talks have stalled due to the Covid-19 stoppage.

There is some optimism that the deal may go through at some point, however, potentially for a lower value. Amazon had already entered into a partnership with Flamengo to produce a behind-the-scenes documentary series on the club’s run to the final of 2019’s Club World Cup, where they lost out to Liverpool.

Help from the FA? As pointed out above, the small and medium-sized clubs will be the biggest casualties from the Covid-19 fallout, and there has been a call for Brazil’s football association, the CBF, to step in and bail them out. Amir Somoggi, director of marketing company Sports Value, points out that the CBF has an estimated BRL 700 million in its coffers, which it could “distribute intelligently among the clubs.” 

Reliving the 1970 final

Soccer - FIFA World Cup Mexico 1970 - Final - Brazil v Italy - Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
Brazil’s Carlos Alberto slams home his side’s fourth goal

With Covid-19 robbing us of live football, Brazil’s sports channels have opted to show re-runs of historic games, be they domestic or international. In the same vein, we look back at the 1970 World Cup Final, Brazil’s most celebrated triumph that turns 50 years old in June.

The 1970 World Cup Final was an almighty clash of two opposing footballing philosophies. Brazil’s futebol arte faced an Italy side slowly re-emerging from their ultra-defensive catenaccio period. It was fluidity against rigidity; freedom against discipline. Throughout the tournament, Italy rotated their two playmakers, with Sandro Mazzola and Gianni Rivera often playing one half each; Brazil played all four of theirs at once. In 21st-century football, where the best teams share many of the same tactical principles, it is doubtful we will ever again see such a contrast in style at the game’s highest level.

Brazil started strongly, with Pelé opening the scoring after 18 minutes with an impressive header. From the left-hand side, Rivellino lobbed a high cross to Italy’s far post. Pelé managed to gain half a yard of separation from his marker, Internazionale’s commanding defender Tarcisio Burgnich, leaped into the air and met the ball with a perfectly directed header. “Burgnich returned to the ground, subject to the inexorable laws of gravity. Pelé didn’t,” wrote Italian sociologist Nando dalla Chiesa. “Pelé obeyed his own laws of nature and stayed there, suspended in the air.”

In the 20 minutes that followed Brazil’s opening goal, Italy enjoyed their only spell of pressure in the final. Centre-forward Roberto Boninsegna managed to score an equalizer, capitalizing on some slack play in the Brazilian defense, rounding goalkeeper Félix and putting the ball into the net. Unnerved, Brazil roared back and controlled the remainder of the match. By the half-time whistle, Brazil’s superior physical condition began to tell. Italy, days after their grueling semi-final against West Germany, slowed down.

One could argue that the 1970 World Cup Final was won on Brazil’s right flank. Having scored in every match of the tournament, Jairzinho was identified as the biggest threat to the Italy defense. His penetrating diagonal runs had proved difficult for defenses to deal with, so Italy’s coach Ferruccio Valcareggi duly assigned left-back Giacinto Facchetti to man-mark Jairzinho, following wherever the Brazilian winger may roam. This, in turn, caused a whole new problem for Italy: Carlos Alberto.

A knock-on advantage of Jairzinho’s forward runs was that Brazil’s right-back, team captain Carlos Alberto, had his own space to push up into. Usually, the defender was reluctant to attack too much, concerned about leaving the opposition’s left-winger with too much room to counterattack. This was not the case against Italy, the only team Brazil faced in 1970 that played without a left-winger. Carlos Alberto was therefore free to attack at will, time and time again he helped construct Brazilian attacks and establish his side’s dominance in the match.

Brazil deservedly regained their lead on 66 minutes when Gérson beat Italy goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi with a vicious left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area. Five minutes later, it was 3-1. With the accuracy of a championship golfer, Gérson dropped a soaring 50-yard free-kick on the forehead of Pelé, who cushioned the ball into the path of Jairzinho. Italian defenders began to close in on the winger, but Jairzinho bundled the ball into the net for his seventh and final goal at the 1970 World Cup. 

After Jairzinho’s goal and with the Italians running on empty, the result of the World Cup Final had been put beyond doubt. Despite a long and physically taxing tournament, Brazil had no interest in running down the clock. They kept coming forward, ostensibly enjoying themselves too much to retreat and waste time. They celebrated their triumph through their football, passing the ball around effortlessly. Four minutes from full-time, thanks to Brazil’s insistence, the supporters in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca and everyone watching around the world were treated to futebol arte’s all-time greatest moment.

The heavy-legged Italians stagger down Brazil’s left-wing in a hopeless attempt to pull a goal back. Tostão, tracking back to defend, robs the ball back inside Brazil’s half and strokes it to Piazza in the center of defense. After a neat exchange of one-touch passes, Clodoaldo gets his foot on the ball in midfield. As a gang of Italians closes in, Clodoaldo, with his socks around his ankles, pulls off the most audacious piece of skill in the entire tournament. With only a handful of touches, the defensive midfielder darts and weaves around four opposition players in the space of four seconds. The crowd are on their feet, Clodoaldo has opened up the pitch for another Brazilian attack. It is at this moment that captain Carlos Alberto thinks back to the pre-match team-talk and a piece of advice he received from coach Zagallo.

“He told us that Italy would leave their right flank completely open if Jairzinho, Pelé, and Tostão moved to the left all at once,” Carlos Alberto recounted, decades later. “After Clodoaldo dribbled the Italians, I started moving forward, slowly.”

Clodoaldo passes left to Rivellino, who takes a single touch of control before playing a long pass down the touchline to Jairzinho. The right-winger had been followed all the way across the pitch by his marker Facchetti. The way is now clear for Carlos Alberto.

“When Rivellino made that pass, I could clearly see Italy move their defenders to the left. It was the only time it happened over the 90 minutes.”

Jairzinho darts infield onto his right foot and just as he beats Facchetti, Carlos Alberto goes full-throttle.

“I started running as fast as I could.”

Pelé has already noticed Carlos Alberto’s gut-busting run before he receives Jairzinho’s pass. With the ball at his feet, the No 10 waits, does some complex physics calculations in his head and plays a perfectly weighted pass to his right for Carlos Alberto to arrive and smash into the net without breaking stride.

Celebrated Italian film director and passionate football fan Pier Paolo Pasolini would analyze the match the following year as part of a longer study about the “language of football,” stating that “in Mexico, the aestheticizing Italian prose was beaten by Brazilian poetry.”

— Written with Mauricio Savarese

Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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