News broke on Friday that the Venezuelan Congress were undertaking an investigation into the sponsorship of the Williams Formula One team by the state-owned oil giant Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., better known as PDVSA.
Congressman Carlos Ramos wrote to Williams in an attempt to obtain a copy of the contract between PDVSA and the team, which according to Autosport will be worth between £21 million and £29.4 million next season. Venezuelan driver Pastor Maldonado is expected to retain his seat as part of the arrangement.
But Williams F1 are not the only sporting organisation to have benefited from PDVSA’s hefty sponsorship. Since 2009 the Ecuadorian football team Emelec have displayed PDVSA’s logo on the shirts in return for somewhere in the region of $2million a year.
Comparing the figure of $2million to the sponsorship deals negotiated by other top Ecuadorian teams indicates that Emelec are, just about, the highest earners from a title sponsor in the country. Barcelona are thought to earn around $400,000 from their main sponsor Pilsener; El Nacional earn $1,325,000 from Holding Dinec; while LDU Quito come closest to matching Emelec, receiving $1,950,000 a year from Diners Club International.
Emelec are among the biggest clubs in the country, but the decision of PDVSA to sponsor them over their more prestigious Guayaquil neighbours Barcelona, and at a much higher financial level, caused controversy at the time due to Ecuador president Rafael Correa enjoying close relations with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez. Correa is an avid Emelec supporter and there was therefore much conjecture over whether it had been Correa’s influence that had coloured PDVSA’s decision to sponsor Emelec.
Both parties obviously rejected such claims, but Correa did little to deflect attention from the deal when he claimed earlier this year that the three consecutive league titles won by El Nacional, the team of the national army, between 1976 and 1978 were due in part to interference from the military government of the time. “It’s as if tomorrow we say that Emelec were champions just because the president arranged for PDVSA to support Emelec,” Fausto Correa, a striker with the club between 1967 and 1981 commented at the time. “It’s not about who supports a team, its about what the players do on the pitch.”
A local agent suggested to The Economist in June this year that Emelec’s wage bill had risen 30% since PDVSA began sponsoring the team in 2009. Money has been lavished on foreign coaches such as Jorge Sampaoli, Omar Asad and current incumbent Juan Ramon Carrasco, but the club still remain without a league title since 2002. Beaten finalists in last year’s final between the winners of the first and second stages of the league campaign, Emelec are again assured of a final place this time around after winning the first stage earlier this year.
The injection of cash provided by PDVSA has certainly had a positive effect on Emelec’s fortunes and allowed them to compete with LDU Quito, whose international marketing presence in the wake of their Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana triumphs accounts for their similarly high sponsorship revenue. A political favour or not, PDVSA’s investment will be sorely missed if and when they decide to pull the plug.
That said, even if they did, Emelec would still be able to function, albeit in a weaker state. One fears the effect of such a removal of funding for Williams F1 would be far more catastrophic, potentially laying to rest one of Formula One’s great institutions.