Jeroen Weijermars, sports marketing professor at the Johan Cruyff University in Amsterdam, reflects on the reaction of sponsors following the accusations against Blatter for taking bribes
One of the reasons that justify a company’s investment in sponsorship is that of sharing values between the sponsor and the sponsee. And, in the case of sport, there are multiple benefits in this partnership through the possibility to project attitudes such as effort, motivation, teamwork, the pursuit of excellence … But how do we usually react in cases of corruption? Should a club, an institution or an athlete break with its sponsor if the image it projects no longer suits them? Or should a company stop sponsoring a project when it no longer defends the values it supported at the start of the partnership?
Jeroen Weijermars, sports marketing professor at the Johan Cruyff University in Amsterdam, opens a debate in the wake of a recent case: the reaction of FIFA sponsors following the corruption scandal that forced Joseph Blatter to resign as president.
“At the time of writing this post, I am at the NASSM (North American Society for Sports Management) Conference in Ottawa, a host city of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015. In the framework of the conference, there will be several presentations on sports and ethics and, as a sports marketing specialist, I could not forget the so-called ‘Blattergate’ and the reaction of FIFA sponsors in recent weeks.
Until the day of Blatter’s re-election and subsequent resignation, not a single sponsor explicitly commented on the bribery scandal at FIFA. I support the belief that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but that does not mean that, as an active part of the football ecosystem (in this case the sponsor), you can’t make an early move. If I were one of the sponsors I would have said, at least, that “if it is proved that the allegations are true, we will stop being sponsors.” But there is still an awkward silence from the sponsors.
The Dutch press suggested that it should be the sponsors who put pressure on FIFA to clarify the matter. And also the international press defended this position. But the sponsors have not made a move. Some marketing experts argued that the current FIFA sponsors might be afraid that their competitors would replace them if they stopped their sponsorships. Does that mean that Coca Cola is continuing out of fear that Pepsi will take its place?
Meanwhile, consumers also seem to be quite indifferent. The Dutch press suggested that consumers stop buying any product sponsoring FIFA as a sign of rejection, but nothing happened. Moreover, consumers quickly forget: at the next World Cup, the ball will be put into play and it will again be one of the greatest sporting events.
Despite all this, it’s time to make a 180-degree change. Call me naive or idealistic, but I expected more from a sponsor than the simple fact of seeking exposure and brand value. Especially at a time when it is supposed that commercial organizations should have social responsibility, I hoped that sponsors would not only be leaders in their markets, but also in their behavior.
Although there are studies that show negative publicity causes little damage to a sponsor’s brand value, sponsors have a broader responsibility. And to assume this responsibility, they must change their mentality. In this sense, I hope that sponsors start to spread social values not only in their advertising messages, but also in their actions.
And personally, I’d like to bring to the table the importance of ethics in sports marketing and sports management programs. As professionals in the sector, we must promote fair play again. Perhaps only then will we be able to see at another NASSM sports management conference in a few years the analysis of a case that proves that corporate social responsibility is worthwhile in terms of exposure, brand value and commitment to the fans.
Johan Cruyff Insitute