Should sponsors be concerned by cheating in sport?

Should sponsors be concerned by cheating in sport?

From athletes using performance-enhancing drugs to rugby's 'Bloodgate' and the Renault Formula One team's penalty for deliberately crashing, sport cheats may taint sponsor brands' reputations


Adam WylieManaging partner, 23red

The BBC, Parliament, big businesses and the banks have all suffered a loss of faith in recent years. Now it is the turn of the sports sector.

We have always had gamesmanship, but ‘Bloodgate' and the recent Renault F1 scandal take this to new levels. There is a big difference between a sportsman making a snap decision to dive, crash or feign injury, and a pre­meditated deceit. It's sport's equivalent of murder over manslaughter - and brands will recognise this.

Sport has suffered, undoubtedly, but here's the real news: brands (OK, apart from Enron and Lehman Brothers) can be beacons of honesty. This is an oppor­tunity, and businesses like the Co-operative are seizing the high ground.

Given the apparent increase in the attendant risks of aligning with sports, brands will start to create their own platforms in which they can control risk, such as the Volvo Ocean Race and Red Bull Air Race. And as brands think twice about sport, the alluring, but previously eschewed music, art, film and lifestyle platforms will benefit.



Paul VaughanBusiness operations director, Rugby Football Union

Brands associate themselves with events, teams and lifestyles for many reasons, but the fundamental relation­ship between any particular sport and a brand is rooted in a strategic partner­ship based on the core values of both parties. If either the sponsor or the sport steps over the reputation line, there will be concern over collateral/reciprocal brand damage.

Rugby has had its share of high-profile issues over recent months, but we acted swiftly. As well as dealing with the immediate problems through exist­ing disciplinary processes, the RFU formed its Image of the Game task group to rapidly come up with concrete recommendations that minimise the risks of future problems arising and to rebuild the reputation of the game.

Rugby sponsors have had their concerns, but have been hugely suppor­tive of our efforts. Fundament­ally, the people who play and support the game, still have the core values of the game at heart and that is what brands buy into and why we will continue to protect the sport's image.



Tim CrowChief executive, Synergy

Any sponsorship involves an element of risk - perennially, celebrity and athlete endorsements, more recently, Big Brother and the Tour de France. Now, it's F1 and rugby.

But whether their sponsorship is high- or low-risk, if brands have been properly advised, they should be prepared for worst-case scenarios. The pre-deal due diligence process should include risk analysis, and put approp­riate measures in place: in particular, the sponsorship contract should include a reputation-protection clause enabling the brand to terminate the deal in the event of a scandal - a right exercised by Renault F1 sponsors ING and Mutua Madrilena.

Ultimately, what the recent scandals have done is to put the onus on all sports to guarantee the integrity of their product for consumers, media and sponsors. The spectre of athletics, in recovery, but still fragile, in the wake of years of drug scandals, remains.


Chris TownsendCommercial director, LOCOG

The key aspect for me is not the incidents themselves, but how they are dealt with in the aftermath. If the issues are resolved immediately and satisfact­orily, then, in my view, there should be no long-term impact on the sponsor.

In both of the recent high-profile cases, we have seen one individual acting at his own behest - the authorities have acted swiftly and the individuals punished. Had this not happened, then the brands involved would have cause for concern, but I don't believe there will be any long-term impact for Renault, Harlequins or their sponsors.

Unless spectators start to walk away, it is unlikely sponsors will - they know the value of their investment. And at the end of the day, of course, the sport has to be bigger than the personalities involved - the teams, supporters and sponsors all know that.