Athlete partnerships bring degrees of risk for brands. The risk for the brand comes in two forms: reputational risk, and performance risk.
Reputational risk can have real downside impact on your brand when an athlete you’re partnered with has a behavior misstep on or off their field of play. Those missteps can cause brands to invoke clauses in their contracts that terminate partnerships with those athletes.
At the height of Tiger Woods’ martial problems and substance abuse issues, AT&T, P&G’s Gillette, Gatorade, and Accenture ended their relationships with Woods. Many others, including General Motors, simply didn’t renew their partnerships with him as his playing performance slumped.
Nike stuck with Woods. This worked out well for the brand when Woods returned to favor in golf almost a decade later. Nike also stuck with Colin Kaepernick when the NFL player became the face of ‘taking a knee’ activism among NFL players, amidst some backlash. In both cases, Nike stuck to its brand values and stood by its athletes. In both cases, it not only paid off for Nike, but made the brand stronger.
Performance risk impacts value
Performance risk for brands can be less charged, but still impact the value and benefit delivered by the athlete. There are a number of ways this can happen:
- The athlete your brand has a relationship with gets injured, gets traded or gets cut.
- The campaign you built based on the athlete’s performance no longer works as well when the athlete is out for the rest of the season due to an injury.
- The athlete you signed has a bad year and plumets to the bottom of the rankings.
- In the case of an athlete in team sports, the player goes into a slump and doesn’t get much time on the field.
From a performance risk perspective, Olympic and Paralympic athletes add some additional complexity. Most of these athletes train and compete within their sport with the objective of competing at an Olympic or Paralympic Games that only happen once every four years. As part of an Olympic or Paralympic strategy, or not, these athletes can be valuable for brands, as they personify the Olympic and Paralympic movements. These athletes rally national pride, and they represent the pursuit of excellence.
However, Olympic and Paralympic athletes must qualify for their national team, and that qualification isn’t guaranteed. Furthermore, depending on the sport and the Games cycle, that qualification may not be confirmed until close to Games time. The athletes that do qualify to compete may not get to the medal podium.
If your brand has Olympic and Paralympic athletes in your sponsorship portfolio and you’re focused on those athletes reaching the podium as the leverage point, you’re aiming for the wrong objective.
Focus on the journey
For Lumency clients with Olympic and Paralympic athletes on roster, we recommend looking at a podium placement as a bonus, but not as the measure of success. We focus brand activation of these partnerships around celebrating the athlete’s pursuit, on honoring the athlete’s commitment to excellence, and on telling the athlete’s stories, especially their off-the-field-of-play stories. We also focus brand activation on supporting the athlete’s journey and being a partner in their success.
The Olympics and the Paralympics score high in both passion and interest with consumers across country markets. Interest starts to accelerate about 100 days out from the start of an Olympic Games. But relevance to Olympic and Paralympic messaging for brands can burn out if launched too early. Interest in the Games lingers for about two weeks after a Games ends.
Olympic and Paralympic athlete partnerships enable brands to extend their connection to the Olympic and Paralympic movements to be a more always-on proposition, but – it’s important to anchor back to the athlete’s stories, and to focus on the athlete’s journey to the next Games.
Seeing the athletes in your roster make it to the medal podium is good for your brand and brings you additional leverage opportunities, but better to win before they win by focusing on how they get to the podium and on helping them get there.
By: Ian Malcolm