(Bloomberg) — A luxury Swiss watchmaker says it has become the unintentional beneficiary of the latest scandal to affect world soccer governing body FIFA.
FIFA ordered officials to return a 25,000 Swiss franc ($26,400) model made by Parmigiani Fleurier SA that was distributed to them by Brazil’s soccer federation before the World Cup hosted in the South American country earlier this year.
The soccer body, which has faced scrutiny amid several corruption cases involving senior officials, said in September that such lavish gifts exceed its rules. The incident may have given Switzerland-based Parmigiani the biggest free publicity push since the company was established in 1976.
“It is unanimously positive,” Emilie Jacquot, a brand manager at the company, said in an e-mail. An association to “the FIFA scandal had an excellent impact on our brand awareness.”
The watch was described last week as a “poison present” by Michel D’Hooghe, a member of FIFA’s executive board. Parmigiani said it got a boost by having its watch chosen as a gift for FIFA officials, associating it with “high luxury.”
The watchmaker wasn’t aware of the purpose of the purchase by the Brazilian federation, known as the CBF. It has worked with the national organization since 2011 and has a collection focused on Brazilian soccer. National soccer officials acquired the watches for $8,750 each, according to the panel that investigated the gifts for FIFA.
Visitor numbers to its website “boomed and remain higher than before,” Jacquot said. “The CBF collection is even more appreciated than before — or at least we seem to receive a lot of queries about it that confirm this.”
Zurich-based FIFA is trying to tighten governance following criticism from sponsors when the only challenger to its president, Sepp Blatter, in 2011 was accused of trying to bribe voters. Blatter, who took office in 1998, said Sept. 8 he plans to run for a fifth term next year, reversing a decision to step aside.
Giving or receiving high-value gifts is banned under FIFA ethics rules, and the watches should have been rejected by recipients, a FIFA panel said. The organization said it won’t pursue ethics proceedings against officials who turn in the watches by Oct. 24. The items will be donated to an independent non-profit group committed to corporate social responsibility projects in Brazil, the FIFA panel said.
D’Hooghe, a Belgian official, was one of 65 recipients of bags containing the watch, which he described as looking like a Swatch, a less-expensive brand.
“I found that watch in a bag that was placed in our room,” he told reporters. “It’s only after one week that I opened it. I saw there was a watch with plastic bracelet and the mark Parmigiani. For me, Parmigiani is a cheese that you put on spaghetti. I thought it was a kind of Swatch.”
Patrick Nally, a Briton who brokered Coca-Cola’s first agreement with FIFA in the 1970s, said the value of the incident to Parmigiani “would have been enormous.”
“I don’t think anyone of us would’ve heard of them if this story had not broken,” he said. “They must be laughing — I doubt they need many sales because the watch is so expensive.”