Tennis is the latest sport affected by corruption. Buzzfeed and BBC exposed that 16 players among the top 50 in the sport were involved in fixing.
The revelation came as a bit of a shock to most in India, as tennis had a relatively clean past to it. But the same can't be said of other sports.
The more high profile cricket has had its fare share of controversies. There were even a couple of murmurs about the ISL semi-finals too. But has any of it affected fans and brands anymore, when it comes to following, or sponsoring sports?
Rediffusion Y&R’s chief strategy officer Navonil Chatterjee, says, “It (the controversies) affect the sport … but only temporarily. This is because public memory is very short. And love for sport too overpowering. There is a phrase associated with sailors – ‘The call of the sea’. It’s such a strong call that sailors often find it hard to remain in land for more than a few months. It’s the same with sport. Sport is very primal and for all genuine sports lovers, it’s too heady and too irresistible to stay off from for any significant period. Yes the occasional disappointment with fallen or tainted heroes is bound to be a dampener, but there are always new heroes and new feats to look forward to. In this sense perhaps more than any other, the game is bigger than any individual – whether he be a saint or a taint!”
With fans following the sport, despite controversy, can brands miss out. They have to be cautious and act on the specific situation, warn marketers.
Vivek Nayer, CMO of the auto division, Mahindra & Mahindra, a company that has no association with any of the affected sports, explains, “Stemming from the tennis controversy, if a brand ambassador gets involved, it’s a bit of a slippery surface. There are two aspects here, one is a reality and the other is a perception. If a person is proven to be guilty, then a brand needs to disassociate with it. The problem with a perception of a sports star associated with a controversy is tricky too. Brands need to be watchful, as the sports star is hit by a claim, but that could be proven wrong too. But, with media attention, and in particular social media attention, playing a big role to get the controversy in to the limelight, it’s a tricky situation for brands.”
Hiren Pandit, COO, TransStadia, also has a word of caution, for a sport such as tennis. “I don’t think people will stop watching (tennis), but what will change is the way they view it. People will have that suspicion in mind and individuals lose credibility. Brands will be vary to invest in the sport or the player. So, in turn the money coming into it will reduce. The kind of money in tennis is so huge that now if brands stay away it will have a huge impact on it. This will in turn impact the future of the sport, as kids might look to steer clear,” he adds.
Nayer notes that sports don’t suffer as much, if it’s only two or three people who are proven guilty. He contends that the stature of the players involved would make the difference. “If a Kohli or Dhoni get involved in cricket (controversy), then the sport could be hit, as they sort of shoulder the sport in the country.”
Chatteree surmises, “I think one look at the facts and figures around IPL will give you the answer. It’s the biggest juggernaut, India’s annual circus. If viewers throng to the television sets, can brands be far behind? Brands are quick to drop tainted individuals as their brand endorser, but that doesn’t necessarily stop them from signing on another ‘till-now-untainted’ cricketer. Do you think the Adidas’ and Cokes of the world will be absent from the 2018 FIFA World Cup just because of a few Swiss accounts and some millions of dollars being exchanged by a certain Sepp Blatter and a Michel Platini?”
And therein lies the answer.
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