Adidas Should Follow The Stars, Leave Crooks Behind Bars

Football and athletics are at the heart of corruption concerns that brands must have with sporting organisations, leaving the marketer in us all to wonder -- is there any point sponsoring organisations when we can just sponsor individuals or teams instead?

There has been so much written about wrongdoing within football and the IAAF that it's not worth repeating. Marketers should be asking, though, why football was based in Switzerland and athletics in the tiny principality of Monaco. Both are renowned tax havens, but could it just be that they were chosen because they lie a step removed from EU banking regulations and scrutiny? It seems odd, doesn't it, that the two sports known to have widespread collusion in foul play happened to be in such unusual locations, just a step away from the EU regulations. It's a good question for marketers to ask if they are going to get in to bed with a sport. Where are you based, and why? If I was asking the question and somewhere like Switzerland, Monaco, Bermuda and so on were mentioned, I think I'd be seriously tempted to go looking for another sport.

The real outcome from all this is that brands will almost certainly begin to focus on individuals rather than events. You can image quite how quickly Adidas wanted to get away from the IAAF 2021 World Championships being held in Eugene, Oregon, which just happens to be the home of arch rival Nike. We are being told by the IAAF and its new President, Britain's Lord Sebatian Coe, that this decision had nothing to do with Lord Coe acting on Nike's behalf, a consultancy role he has since dropped. If you need evidence for a real stink within IAAF, you need look no further, once you have dealt with organised drug cheating, of course. How could the organisation not realise its worth was greatly higher when Nike and Adidas were competing over sponsorship rights? Rule one out of the game by such a public snub and then just see what happens. Hint -- it's happening right now as Adidas pulls out of IAAF deals.

So the huge names in sports sponsorship -- such as Visa, Hyundai, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Adidas -- are all being moved into very uncomfortable territory as they are expected to make statements not about the wonderful events they have made possible, but whether or not they think heads should roll and countries banned from holding or participating in future tournaments.

There is a huge irony here that is beginning to reverse. The organisations were seen as the safe hands. Unlike an individual, they don't cheat on a spouse, get caught with drugs or drunk driving and so on. Now, however, it appears that organisations can do just as badly, siphoning millions of dollars out of a sport, colluding on hiding drugs cheats and effectively acting like feudal barons over their serfdoms.

The last Fifa World Cup saw how effective sponsors' rivals could be in signing up individual athletes and placing them in ads that were played throughout the tournament. The upshot was that very few people knew whether it was Adidas or Nike, Bud or Heineken, Coca-Cola or Pepsi who had paid tens of millions of dollars to be an official Fifa partner. The reach of social media helps brands build relationships with an individual's typically huge and highly engaged audience. So for the sake of the occasional adulterer or slip of the tongue in an interview, star athletes must be looking a whole lot more attractive right now, particularly as they compete for four years running up to a major event as well as the major tournament itself.

There are risks either way because individuals can get injured or see a dip in form (remember when Tiger Woods was good?) but brands can protect themselves with performance-related clauses backed up by morality forfeits, should they need to make a sharp exit from a failing career. If they choose to stay, they can always be said to have supported someone in their hour of need, a sentiment that doesn't extend when you keep pumping money into a corrupt body in a tax haven.

If I were in charge of a marketing budget, there's absolutely no way I would be sponsoring these unwieldy sports bodies based in questionable locations. Tap into an individual's promise and their massive social following. That's what I'd be doing with a proviso that we can all get together for a campaign ahead of a major tournament and make a rival kick themselves for spending more to be associated with a bunch of questionable executives running a body where corruption is being uncovered daily.

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