Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Recognition: The Brand Crisis In Professional Sports

Cheating And Bad Behavior Create Image Problem And Consequences For Stakeholders

By David Miranda

The NFL is in the midst of dealing with a rash of off-the-field incidents of bad behavior including the recent plight of one of its star players, Michael Vick, facing federal charges stemming from dog-fighting and cruelty to animals. The rookie NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, today, announced Vick would be restricted from the League until further investigation of the charges. The NFL is under intense pressure from fans and activists groups to act responsibly. Nike has suspended a new Michael Vick shoe launch until further notice and will wait until due process has occurred to determine the status of their endorsement deal. Vick has lost renewals of other endorsement deals including AirTran and Coca-Cola.

The NBA is dealing with the indictment of one of its senior referees, Tim Donahy, for gambling on games he officiated and being involved with members of organized crime on point- shaving. This follows many incidents of the League having to discipline players for bad behavior and the highly publicized Kobe Bryant rape trial.

Major League Baseball has tried to deal with the issue of steriods in baseball by a number of its current and former stars. At a Congressional hearing, All Star Rafael Palmeiro flatly denied use of steriods only to be tested positive some months later. Former home run champion, Mark McGwire refused at the same Congressional hearing to answer questions about past steriod use. The MLB investigation continues clouding the accomplishments of soon-to-be all time home run champion, Barry Bonds.

The Tour De France has been embarrassed, by the admission by many top former cyclists, of their use of blood doping. The fate of last year's race winner, Floyd Landis, is still being awaited.

NASCAR has had to levy suspensions and fines against racing teams for cheating.

What does this mean for the sports themselves, their fans, and sponsors? The stakes are very high. Losing fan support, losing lucrative sponsors and advertisers could have a significant impact of the fortunes of these high profile brands.

Officials of these sports are faced with King Solomon decisions in saving their respective brands. Some things they can control, i.e. levying fines, suspensions, lifetime banishment. Some things they cannot, i.e. the legal system and the court of public opinion. Sponsors will have the same decisions based on fan reaction.

This is a brand crisis of epic proportion for all stakeholders. Stay tuned.