In Marketing Sportivo, Sponsorizzazioni Sportive

For the last two weeks it was the news anyone talked about.  The Djokovic affair or the Djokovic saga, or the battle between Djokovic and Australia, or Djokovic’s war against the world…to cut the story short, the issue of the no-vax number 1 in the world has completely overshadowed the start of one of the most important tennis tournaments ever, the Australian Open.

It is useless to go back to what happened, everyone has already talked about it. The aspect that we are most interested in analysing, as a sports marketing agency, is related to the impact or consequences that this saga may have in economic  and sponsorship terms. But let’s take a step back.

To sponsor means to bind oneself to the values of the sport or athlete that is being sponsored.

This is a fundamental and unavoidable starting point for every sponsorship deal. We always say it and we will continue to say it until we become obsessed: sponsoring does not only mean putting a logo/brand on a football shirt, on an F1 car, on a MotoGP bike or providing clothing to a famous tennis player.

Sponsorship is much, much more. Behind every sport there are in fact specific and well-defined values that represent it and that represent the sport as well. Sponsorship is first and foremost an association of values.

When a company decides to invest in sports, we always try to understand the values of the company or the brand that they want to communicate, in order to compare them with those of the discipline in which they are going to invest to make sure that they are in line. The company’s value scale must match that of the sport, team or athlete being sponsored. It often happens that companies need to link themselves to the specific values of sport in order to improve their perception.

The values associated while investing in a sports sponsorship project are fundamental: fair play, determination, dedication, hard work, sacrifice, resilience, respect for the opponent, respect for the rules. These are just some of the values linked to sport.

In choosing the sporting subject, whether it is a team or an athlete, one must therefore be very careful and understand if there is a match between the parties.

Sponsoring does not mean investing in those who win

Another point to consider when you want to invest in sports. You cannot think of investing based only on the performance of the team or athlete. The result cannot be a determining factor in the construction of a sports marketing project. It is obvious that a company that invests in a sports sponsorship always hopes that its team or athlete will get good results or win as much as possible, but we cannot choose based on that.

A top team certainly has more visibility and attention than a lesser team, but that is not why we should only invest in champions. Sponsorship must be exploited and communicated regardless of sports results.

In fact, if the team we are investing in experiences a series of negative results, we must try to “exploit” and communicate and build a narrative around those results as well.

Let’s go back to the values we talked about earlier: resilience, sacrifice, knowing how to keep going even when everything seems hard and difficult, getting back on track after serious injuries, overcoming fears and dark, negative moments. These are all aspects that are part not only of sports programs but of life in general. And they are powerful messages that can and must be part of a communication project that also involves sports.

Sports personalities have become true vehicles of messages

In addition to the values they represent, sports celebrities have now become true vehicles of communication. Thanks to the reach of social media and also to the ongoing pandemic, we’ve seen that sports figures have started to use social media more and more extensively, sometimes maybe even a little too much.

Zoom calls, live, stories, posts, videos…athletes have invaded social media with content related to their personal and professional lives, often launching real messages through their behaviours and choices. We have entered their homes, seen what they do, what they eat, what they watch, how they dress and how they think about various aspects and current issues. The “private” sphere of the sports testimonial hardly exists anymore; they are real media both when they carry out their professional activity as sportsmen and women and when they post thousands of contents of all sorts on social networks.

And here problems often arise. As it happens with the Djokovic case.

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I am a professional sportsman, but not just that

A sport professional like Novak Djokovic is not just a sports personality. He is not just the amazing athlete we follow when he plays tennis.

He is first and foremost the number 1 tennis player in the world, but he is also a prominent public figure because of the fame and popularity he has achieved through his sporting achievements, the sponsors that have supported him and the public who follow him and tennis.

With his behaviours, opinions, values, ideas, actions, on and off the court, Djokovic, as well as any other famous athlete, has the power to convey messages to millions of people. But with fame also comes responsibility.

Every athlete is free to think and act as he or she sees fit, but must also be aware that what he or she says and does has an impact on the public that follows him or her, and therefore also consequences. Sponsors who support him and invest in him and his image must therefore understand if the brand and the public they are addressing are in line with what the testimonial represents, even off the field, as a public figure.

Let’s take some examples:

If the athlete I sponsor is doping, I will drop him.

If the athlete I sponsor is accused and convicted of violence, I abandon him/her.

If the athlete I sponsor violates and fails to follow the rules, I abandon him/her.

This is because the company/brand cannot afford to be associated with these kinds of negative values. In contracts with athletes then, there are always penalties or exit clauses in case of doping, violence, gambling, racism, homophobic attitudes, etc..

The Djokovic case, what consequences will it have for his sponsors?

Many are wondering what his sponsors will do. Until now there has been a total silence from everyone.

Only two days ago I read an article in the Financial Times that said that Lacoste intends to “review” the events that led to the expulsion of the tennis player from Australia. “As soon as possible, we will be in contact with Novak Djokovic to review the events that accompanied his presence in Australia,” he said.

Lacoste, owned by the Swiss MF Brands group, signed a multi-year deal with Djokovic in 2017, replacing the giant Uniqlo. According to Forbes, the Serbian tennis player would be worth $30 million a year from the sponsorship ties. In addition to Lacoste there are in fact also Peugeot, Seiko, Head, Asics, UKG.

In this moment, the image of the Serbian tennis player has certainly taken on connotations that go beyond the sporting aspect. His ideas about the ongoing pandemic and vaccinations, his behavior and actions with respect to the rules that every country in the world has had to impose to contain the spread of the virus, and his statements about the events, certainly have a value and a weight that companies that support him can not ignore.  The affair was then made even heavier by the way it was handled by the athlete’s entourage. Djokovic shares a post in which he apologizes for violating the rules of isolation and doing an interview as a positive, and blames his team for incorrectly filling out his entry visa to Australia. His family in Serbia holds a press conference where he attacks everyone and compares the tennis player to Jesus Christ, crucified for no reason.

Let’s say that any of us in these 2 years, had to drastically change our life habits and adapt to the new rules. If I have to travel and I have to fill in a passenger locator form, I cannot lie or omit to say where I have been in the days preceding the flight (and anyone who has watched Airport Security Australia knows very well that lying on an incoming visa puts you in a difficult situation to say the least).

This attitude of the Serbian tennis player, let’s say this, has not had great consensus from the world public opinion.

Damage to his image and not not only that

The consequences of this whole affair will certainly turn into a big image damage for Djokovic in the first place and for the companies that sponsor him, not to mention the consequences and economic fallout that the lack of presence of the tennis player at the Australian Open. His participation is also at risk at Roland Garros in France, which has already declared that all athletes must be vaccinated, as well as in Italy. To go to America the vaccine is mandatory, so even the US Open is at risk.

This means that the sponsors will not have the visibility they should have had, they will not be able to plan the various communication and marketing activities related to the tournaments in which the testimonial should have participated and they will certainly have to revise all the planning planned months ago. The consensus and the popularity of the athlete have certainly been compromised and this will mean less sales of everything that is linked to the image and name of the athlete; less Lacoste t-shirts, less Asics shoes, less Head racquets, ecce cc.

Making an estimate of the damage is difficult but it is certainly huge for all sponsors involved. At this point all that remains is to see what happens.

Silvia Schweiger
Silvia Schweiger
Sport has always been my passion and I was lucky enough to be able to make it my job too. Graduated in Foreign Languages and Literatures, with a Master in Marketing and Communication, for 20 years I have been offering consultancy to companies wishing to use sport as a marketing and communication tool to better engage with their target and reach their objectives. Without sport, life is boring.
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