Why brands sponsoring sport should ride the bumpy road

Sandra Wiles.

Everyone needs to take a breath.

Yes, it has been a huge ten days or so for our cricket-mad nation. Yes, some of those who wear the Baggy Green let us down. Yes, those who have allowed certain behaviour to foster have let us down, and yes, fans have been more united in their displeasure with this than anything I can remember.

But should the response of brands be to run in the opposite direction?

Let’s remember what it is that brands are buying into – universally, it is the passion of the fans. Surely the level of despair shown by fans over the past week is testament to the fact that this is a code that transcends sport and is actually a demonstration of exactly how valuable the property is?

Elite sport is a highly emotional environment and involves human beings with all of their prowess and all of their flaws. There will always be controversy – and any brand that is surprised by that is naïve. When, not if, a crisis arises, brands need to make considered decisions – not ones in the heat of the moment.

Too often brands give way to both external and internal pressures, and are compelled to take swift action – a knee-jerk reaction, if you will, to an issue that should be carefully considered with utmost caution.

The only way to effectively manage this kind of crisis is with a predetermined path on how to act and execute in moments that challenge brand values. If there is a roadmap to follow, brands are empowered to behave rationally in what are reactive and emotional circumstances.

Arguably, decisions to part ways with individuals rather than the code can be more straightforward. In the immediate aftermath of this current ball-tampering affair, some brands instantly ended their player relationships. However, restraint may have delivered these same brands an opportunity to stand by players who have shown vulnerability and could actually help deliver a positive brand outcome over time. These brands could have been part of a larger opportunity.

Immediate decisions by some brands to walk from the actual code regardless of how the code behaves with crisis management can be based on a non-alignment of values. A brand may feel compelled to act in certain circumstances.

However, it is also important not to overlook the fact that a crisis can also deliver brands an early exit opportunity disguised under a different motivation.

The real reason for considered decision-making is that many of these elite sports partnerships are actually multilayered. If a brand is completely invested in a partnership, exiting a major code contract often means also walking from the investment and commitment that has gone into state and grassroots leagues and competitions as well. The outcome of this can negatively impact the very audience whose passion you have been trying to harness.

So whilst brand values should always be a priority, so should elements such as rational crisis management and the ability to negotiate compensation – it’s all part of the journey. Any environment that is built on passion is never risk free – but that is the whole point.

So brands shouldn’t run, but walk slowly, and maybe even turn around again.

Sandra Wiles is the head of partnership and integration at The Media Store.

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