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FIFA looks to the East as it struggles to find sponsors

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With two months to go until the first ball is kicked, international soccer body FIFA is struggling to find sponsors for the 2018 World Cup.

Fewer companies have signed sponsorship deals for this year’s tournament in Russia than had done so two months prior to the 2014 competition, held in Brazil.

FIFA divides sponsors into three groups — partners, World Cup sponsors and regional supporters.

Seven “partners,” all global brands with financial muscle, have signed up to FIFA’s highest level of sponsorship. Brands such as Coca-Cola, Hyundai-Kia Motors, Visa and Adidas have remained FIFA’s loyal, long-term partners. Newcomers to FIFA’s top roster of sponsors have been limited to the Middle East’s Qatar Airways, Russian state oil giant Gazprom and Wanda Group, which calls itself the world’s biggest private property developer.

A pressing concern for FIFA is the declining number of businesses sponsoring its prime tournament.

Five companies have agreed to funnel money to FIFA in return for logos plastered across Russian stadiums and other media exposure during the month-long World Cup, compared to a total of eight in Brazil.

A trio of Western brands — Continental, Johnson & Johnson and Castrol — opted not to renew their sponsorship deals in 2015, the same year as reports of corruption at the top of FIFA came to light. Instead, Chinese firms have stepped up to fill the void left by U.S. and European brands.

Mengniu, China’s second-largest dairy company, signed a sponsorship deal in December, granting it the right to air commercials across a total of 64 World Cup games in June and July. The company is among the five firms listed in FIFA’s second group of tournament-only sponsors.

Sports marketer and former FIFA employee Patrick Nally said FIFA’s toxic brand is the main driving force behind Western firms disassociating themselves from sponsoring the World Cup.

“Clearly, FIFA has become a toxic brand,” Nally said. “It has been a corrupt organization. Companies are concerned with their own image nowadays so you can understand why it (FIFA) isn’t an attractive proposition.”

U.S. prosecutors arrested seven FIFA officials in a raid at FIFA’s Swiss headquarters in May 2015, culminating in a ban from football activities for the body’s former president Sepp Blatter.

Nally, who worked on bringing Coca-Cola in as a sponsor for FIFA and helped establish the organization’s marketing packages for the 1978 and 1982 World Cups, believes the alignment of Chinese, Russian and Middle Eastern companies shows “political decisions” have replaced decisions made on a purely commercial basis at the top of FIFA.

He added that nothing can change the perception of FIFA has a “toxic brand,” but did propose one solution. “FIFA will continue to be in decline and should consider a complete name change or brand image change.”

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at age 87

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Trump says U.S. will manufacture enough coronavirus vaccine doses for every American by April

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President Donald Trump said Friday the U.S. will manufacture at least 100 million coronavirus vaccine doses before the end of the year with enough to inoculate every American by April

“Hundreds of millions of doses will be available every month and we expect to have enough vaccines for every American by April and again I’ll say even at that later stage, the delivery will go as fast as it comes,” Trump said at a White House press briefing.

Pfizer and Moderna, frontrunners in the race for a Covid-19 vaccine, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump’s forecast is at odds with the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said earlier this week that the U.S. wouldn’t start vaccinating people until November or December at the earliest and the doses would be limited at first. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said a vaccine wouldn’t be widely available until the summer or early fall of next year. 

“If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at third … late second quarter, third quarter 2021,” he told the U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, education, and related agencies on Wednesday. 

Trump said Friday that “massive amounts” of the vaccine “will be delivered through our great military and the general is one of our best and he’s ready to go.”

“We are again very advanced on the vaccine, we think that sometime in the very near future we’ll have it,” he said. “We’re… I would say I think I can say years ahead of scheduled what it would be if it were an administration other than this one.”

Trump’s comments came two days after he said the U.S. government could start distributing a coronavirus vaccine as early as October. He said Redfield was mistaken when he said the vaccine wouldn’t be widely available to the general public until next summer or early fall.

“I think he made a mistake when he said that. It’s just incorrect information and I called him and he didn’t tell me that and I think he got the message maybe confused, maybe it was stated incorrectly,” Trump said Wednesday. “We’re ready to go immediately as the vaccine is announced and it could be announced in October, it could be announced a little bit after October but once we go we’re ready.”

There are currently three drugmakers backed by the U.S. in late-stage testing for potential vaccines. Earlier this week, the CDC outlined a sweeping plan to make a vaccine free to all Americans if and when one is approved for public use.

Public health experts have previously said that most Americans likely won’t get immunized with a coronavirus vaccine until the middle of next year. 

Earlier this month, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a draft proposal for distributing a vaccine in the U.S. if one is approved. The vaccine would be distributed in four phases, with health-care workers, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions getting vaccinated first. Essential workers, teachers and people in homeless shelters as well as people in prisons would be next on the list, followed by children and young adults.

Whichever vaccine is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, it will likely be in short supply once it’s cleared for public distribution, medical experts warn. The vaccine will likely require two doses at varying intervals, and states still face logistical challenges such as setting up distribution sites and acquiring enough needles, syringes and bottles needed for immunizations.

Trump’s comments are likely to add to concerns from infectious disease experts and scientists that the White House is pressuring U.S. regulators to approve a vaccine before it’s been adequately tested.

Last week, Stephen Hahn, the head of the FDA, attempted to alleviate concerns about political pressure in the vaccine approval process.

He said he has “no intention” of overruling career scientists at the agency on an approval of a coronavirus vaccine even though he has the authority.

“I will be briefed as commissioner all along about this. I will have the opportunity to see the data,” Hahn said during a virtual Q&A with the Economic Club on Sept. 10. “I can tell you throughout this pandemic, throughout my tenure as commissioner, I have not reversed a decision by the career scientists on medical products. And I have no intention of doing that now.”

The U.S. is manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines “at risk,” meaning the doses are currently being prepared and can be sent out immediately once they’re approved by the FDA.

“All of that cuts months off,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told STAT News in June, saying that the U.S. could have a “a significant number of doses” by December and the beginning of 2021.

Whether the vaccines will be effective against the coronavirus in clinical trials hasn’t yet been proven, he said. “I think we could do it within the time frame that I’ve outlined. But there’s no guarantee that it’s going to be effective,” Fauci said. 

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Unity stock pops after IPO on NYSE

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The New York Stock Exchange welcomes Unity Software Inc. (NYSE: U) Friday, September 18, 2020, as they officially begin trading today.

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Shares of Unity, a video game software developer, jumped more than 30% in its market debut Friday on the New York Stock Exchange. 

The company priced its shares at $52 apiece, after lifting the range on Wednesday to between $44 and $48. The stock began trading at $75 per share. The surge after the open boosted the company’s market cap to nearly $20 billion, making it more than half of game-maker EA‘s market cap. 

The stock trades under the symbol “U.” 

Founded in 2004, Unity has become a major player in game creation over the past decade by giving developers the tools to create 3D titles for phones, consoles and the web without having to code for each platform. The company said in its prospectus that it has 1.5 million monthly active creators and that developers using its software are seeing over 3 billion downloads a month. 

“Pokemon Go” and “Iron Man VR” are among the games developed using Unity’s software. It’s also used for games published by Electronic ArtsTake-Two InteractiveTencent and Ubisoft.

Revenue in the first half of 2020 rose 39% from a year earlier to $351.3 million and the number of customers spending $100,000 or more increased to 716 from 515. Unity’s net loss in the first six months of the year narrowed to $54.1 million from $67.1 million a year ago.

The company announced earlier that employees and former employees, excluding executive officers and directors, can sell up to 15% of their vested holdings from the time the stock opens through Sept. 30. Typically, employees and insiders have to hold on to their shares for a lock-up period, which usually is six months.

Unity’s market debut closes one of the busiest weeks for IPOs. It follow’s cloud company Snowflake‘s debut, which more than doubled in value on Wednesday. 

— CNBC’s Ari Levy contributed to this report. 

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