POSTED: June 21st 2010

JOHN GOODBODY: Sponsorship credibility not just a one-way street

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative, exclusive series only from Sports Features Communications

LONDON, Jun 22: Timing, it is said, is everything. Good timing that is. Bad timing is usually disastrous. The problem for many governing bodies, events and organisations, as well as companies themselves, is that they cannot foresee what is going to happen.

A series of positive drug tests can not only besmirch the sport itself but alienate sponsors, television companies and, of course, the general public, whose interest is vital to all of them.

The repeated doping controversies in the Tour de France has resulted in sponsors withdrawing interest and a decline in television audience figures, as the public wonders: “Am I watching something that is real?” This is a great pity for an event, which I, and many others, have often found so enthralling.

And who could have forecast the scandals surrounding ‘Tiger’ Woods ? His portfolio of endorsements has been shaken by the revelations over his sexual affairs, although Nike, probably his biggest sponsor, has stuck with him - so far.

Storm watch

Although there is bound to be a ‘get-out’ clause for Nike in the contract, the clothing company has probably believed that one of the world’s most celebrated sportsmen can survive the storm, provided it does not recur.

If usually the sport, the event or the competitors can be the fragile link in the partnership, occasionally it can be the company itself. What sports organisations at the moment would like to be associated with BP, a company vilified across the world, and particularly in the United States, for the oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico?

Well, two leading Olympic bodies to start with: the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and the London Organising Committe for the 2012 Games (LOCOG).

Last February, the USOC signed a $15m deal with BP, money much coveted by a body that has been forced to reduce its staffing because of the recession. Is the USOC now happy with the partnership, given that the fall-out from the environmental and financial disaster is set to continue for some time?

Evan Morgenstein, a leading US agent to American gold medallists, told the Associated Press that he had received several phone calls about the association with BP.

He said: “In the end it’s not about $15m, it’s about the brand. They [in the Olympic Movement] talk about branding all the time and the value of the rings. If they are not starting to get the feeling that the rings are soaked in oil, then trust me the rings will be soaked in oil.”

Domestic partner

LOCOG has BP as a Tier One domestic sponsor and, on June 21, the pair announced a new community event across sport, art and culture which, it said, “would enable people up and down the UK to celebrate actively the two year countdown to the Games.”

The original deal, worth about £50m, does not seem in jeopardy but LOCOG must be regretting that it did not prefer Shell, the other major bidder, before negotiations were concluded in 2008.

That is not all for LOCOG.

Another Tier One sponsor is British Airways. In August, the company and the public are set to suffer another outbreak of strikes which could not have been forecast when the deal was struck.

The last wave of industrial action brought bad publicity for both the company and the union involved. The next will escalate the connection of the company, in the public’s mind, with disputes and lack of harmony.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · Goodbody · BP · USOC · LOCOG · 2012 Olympic Games

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