Did Qatar Get Its $300 Million Worth in World Cup PR?

2022 brought a number of major media stories that highlight our long-time mantra that measures of success need to include not just quantity metrics (e.g., number of placements or impressions) but also:

  • Measures of quality (as in key messages or likelihood to purchase), and,
  • Measures of efficiency, (as in, “Was the effort a good investment of resources?”).

    Qatar’s $300 million investment in hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup provides a perfect example of how to apply those criteria. How did its World Cup PR pay off?

    We asked Fullintel’s Head of Insights Angela Dwyer to partner with us in this exercise. Fullintel provided extensive qualitative and quantitative analysis of the media coverage of Qatar and FIFA during the recent World Cup. Dwyer elaborates on the process: “Using our custom human analysis process we analyzed FIFA and Qatar to see how media coverage portrayed these two entities in relation to the many critical topics swirling around during the World Cup.“

    Fullintel’s team specifically looked for and identified:

    • messages delivered,
    • topics covered,
    • overall sentiment, and
    • who was quoted.

    They also applied their Media Impact Score (MIS), a single number that incorporates the tier of the outlet, sentiment, and prominence and visibility of the coverage, who was quoted, the presence of visuals, a link or call to action, spokespeople quoted, and topic. Says Dwyer, “This custom human analysis shows how we dive in and answer questions with data to uncover insights and guide decisions.”

    Qatar’s World Cup PR goal

    Qatar’s World Cup PR goal was clearly to dispel the myth that it is a small and relatively minor player in the oil-rich Middle East. They want to be known as a world-class business and tourism destination on par with their neighbors to the east, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

    The outcome metrics

    The long-term outcome measures will obviously be changes in both business investment and tourism dollars. In the shorter term, traffic, visits, and inquiries to https://visitqatar.com/ would be good proxies for effectiveness. But since we don’t have access to their website or Google Analytics data, we turn to proxies for indications of progress towards that goal.

    The acceptable proxies

    We used Google Trends to see how Qatar stacked up in terms of search for the last 90 days. We put the terms “Visit Dubai” (in red below) and “Visit Qatar” (in blue below) into Google Trends and these were the results:

    World Cup coverage clearly drove the big blue spike in November, showing a large increase in searches for “Visit Qatar.” There has been a slight uptick in searches since then, but “Visit Dubai” maintains its dominance.

    How good was all that coverage?

    The definition of “good” or “high-quality” coverage is subjective. For the purposes of this analysis, we defined it as, “containing the messages and positioning that Qatar was aiming for.”

    Key Topics

    While Qatar’s ultimate aim was to improve their positioning as a tourism and business destination, the following chart shows that their “world class” messaging clearly got buried under controversial topics. Issues around LGBTQ+ rights, working conditions, and the banning of alcohol from the event dominated the coverage. The results were definitely not what Qatar intended:


    Not surprisingly, those topics also drove the overall tone of the coverage:

    The lesson here: If the media is focusing on the terrible working conditions suffered by migrant workers that built the stadiums the games are played in, or on your banning of any signs of support for LGBTQ+ rights, or your banning of alcohol, then negative coverage is bound to outweigh any positive coverage that you get. In Qatar’s case the definition of “winning” might be that at least the majority of coverage was neutral.

    The various sources that the media turned to for quotes didn’t help much. In fact, the voices and messages of human rights organizations and other nonprofits were far more visible than those of the government or the sponsors.


    Did Qatar’s World Cup PR do better than FIFA?

    To put the numbers into context we used FIFA as a benchmark. That organization has a long history of scandals and corruption, so naturally we might expect significant negative coverage leading up to the start of the games. Unfortunately for Qatar, it was implicated in some of that corruption, and so the coverage worsened the country’s positioning.

    More interesting was the fact that, despite the significance of the games and athletes themselves, Qatar actually was mentioned more often than FIFA itself. And, despite some controversial decisions and truly idiotic utterances by its president Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s coverage was significantly less negative that Qatar’s.


    Did Qatar get it’s money’s worth in World Cup PR?

    For Qatar, the short-term answer is: Probably not. It will be years before we ascertain whether the country’s image as both a tourist and business destination has improved. But based on data from the Fullintel analysis, Qatar spent nearly $300 billion, only to:

    • Lose its messaging to human rights organizations, and
    • Generate far more negative coverage than positive.

    And, while they did clearly get coverage of their brand-new facilities, that coverage almost always included mention of the human cost in terms of migrant lives and human rights abuses.

    Dwyer adds: “While Qatar did get some positive coverage around “world-class” construction and wealth, the country took the biggest hit on reputation with human rights issues and working conditions—clearly overshadowing any positive messaging.

    “Based on the findings, Qatar may consider a different approach should another hosting opportunity appear. Future hosting countries could also learn some lessons for the next World Cup or even Olympic games that draw media attention.”

    The cost per major media story? About $18 million. Obviously there was coverage in platforms and outlets that Fullintel didn’t include in this analysis. But even if the total number of stories was 10 times what was analyzed, it’s still a lot of money for some predominately negative coverage. ∞

    Photo up top by Victoria Prymak on Unsplash.

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