Losing in Sports Sponsorship: Athletes’ Bad Behavior

The world of professional sports-drama—intrigue, excitement, men and women pushing their limits, and best of all for marketers, millions of people watching the high drama unfold—But what happens when a sponsored athlete falls from grace.
We’ve all seen the recent example of an athlete caught up in a scandal, but the good will created by the win disappears. Athletes stripped of titles and sponsors retreating from professional sports sponsorships and firms announcing a new strategy to sponsor sport at a different level.
Sports are a surrogate. Brands are investing because it’s the closest way to provide a positive consumer experiences that the consumer can’t experience in everyday life. It’s essentially hero worship.
According to Sport Business Associates, global sponsorship of professional sports teams in 2006 is estimated to reach US$33.6 billion—money spent in the hopes of creating more awareness and revenue for the sponsoring brand.
Total dollars spent just four years ago was estimated at $24.4 billion, so the numbers clearly reveal an upward trend for sponsorships. Increasingly, sponsors have become a significant part of the marketing mix for companies outside the traditional circle of athletic gear, beer, soft drink and fast food companies. Today’s sponsors are technology, insurance, media and financial services companies, to name just a few.
Of course, market research and due diligence help firms assess sectors and properties that may make for a good match.
Unlike product placement, which briefly may leave a brand associated with a movie flop or failed TV show if things don’t pan out, a corporate sponsorship stamps a brand image on pro teams or superstar athletes. Risks are high, and something—or someone—can always cause problems.
There’s no question a sponsor is impacted by these events. It’s a matter of whether that impact is positive or negative… It’s a myth that all publicity is good publicity.
The amount of risk a company is willing to take depends in large part on damage assessments. In the sports world, controversy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and some headline-grabbing incidents might even provide firms with a bargaining chip in closed-door negotiations.

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