Who would have thought that well managed, clean-cut sportsmen like Tiger Woods would ever pose a risk to the brand equity of companies who have spent years creating and building loyalty? Who would have thought that the actions of footballers, baseball players and even cricketers would bring brands to assess whether they will consider sponsoring an individual athlete.
If you sponsor a Premier League footballer (soccer player), then there is a high chance that your crisis management PR gurus have to be on speed-dial, even with the ‘News of the World’ now wound up – but what about a female round the world sailor?
Sailing sponsorship is increasingly seen as a way for brands to be involved with high performance sport linked to technological innovation and sustainability. Sailboats don’t burn fuel the way a powerboat, a NASCAR or an F1 car does, but still use high end CFD processes and attract the world’s best engineers and designers.
When I wrote my Sailing Sponsorship White Paper back in 2009, the positive association of sailing was linked closely with environmental sustainability and it is something that the new America’s Cup is trying to deliver on. But in 2011, the relative cleanliness of the athletes is something that sailing can offer brands who have had their fingers burnt by sponsorship scandals.
For the most part, professional sailors are well educated and well spoken. Many are multi-lingual and in the world of offshore sailing, fantastic role models and brand ambassadors.
Of course, if you want to take a qualified risk on an athlete, there are plenty of young, ‘rock-star’ in the making sailors who can represent more edgy brands, but the men and women at the top of the game are a safe bet for any brand – from Offshore wind energy companies, to banks and financial services brands.
Maybe you don’t mind having your brand ambassador on the front page of the paper. Maybe all publicity is good publicity, but that’s not how sponsors of drug takers and adulterers have reacted in recent times. Maybe a little bit less coverage, with a bigger chance of your real brand values being promoted is a better story for the board.