When Sporting Drama Turns Ugly

Sporting_dramaThis summer has already seen some incredible sporting dramas.  Carli Lloyd at the women’s World Cup, Froome back in his favourite Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France, Hamilton at Silverstone and Sánchez at Wembley all captured sports fans’ hearts and put sport at the top of news bulletins across the world.

As our leisure time and access to communication grows, so does the enormous reach of sport.  Today sports audiences drive national pride, define communities and delineate personal identities.

With 73% of consumers self-identifying as fans, sport has long been seen as a valuable way to create consumer engagement.  Initially, brands were little more than ‘logos on a shirt’.  However over the last ten years, the market has changed as brands have found new ways to harness sport’s powerful emotional stories.

This coalescing of brand and sport stories has allowed brands to deliver greatly improved ROI.  Smart brands have used governing bodies, teams, coaches and athletes as credible voices, athletes as product advocates, TV and online coverage for tremendous reach and lifestyle content through experiential activations – but this fusing of stories also brings risks.

Issues like the recent FIFA scandal, accusations made against Mo Farah, controversy over Raheem Sterling and the behaviour of Leicester City players on tour all illustrate the potential damage brands can suffer when their stories are intertwined with sporting entities.  Once a scandal begins to unfold, it can be easy for those with a vested interest to get swept into the spotlight, even if they played no part in the issue.  With greater profile and visibility comes increased reputational risk, intense media scrutiny, heightened public interest and emotions when issues arise.

Given the myriad reputational risks that go hand-in-hand with the exposure that brands receive when aligning with a sporting property, event, team or athlete, it’s important to have a plan ready to manage potential issues or threats – and a partner that understands the dynamics of this industry.

The unpredictability of sport is a central plank of its appeal and being part of that drama is a powerful way to connect to your audience’s emotions.  But that very combination of unpredictability and intimacy means knowing how to deal with the situation when a drama turns ugly has now become business critical for brands looking to protect their long term story.