Is a lack of moral leadership killing sports sponsorship in Australia?

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 2.03.34 PMBrands will turn their backs on sports sponsorship if administrators do not get their houses in order, warns Anthony Gregorio, CEO of Havas Worldwide Australia. 

Poor governance and leadership from sporting authorities are putting at risk the attractiveness of sport sponsorships.

The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) report Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport published in February  makes for fascinating and depressing reading. I don’t think anyone who is vaguely connected to professional sports in Australia is surprised that drug use and organised crime have made inroads, but it’s how deep the roots have spread and across so many sports that have really caused alarm.

Sports sponsorship is and will no doubt continue to be for some brands a positive marketing strategy.

However, I believe a combination of lax governance and regulations and a lack of leadership from sporting authorities are putting at serious risks the attractiveness of sport sponsorships – and therefore the revenues clubs and governing bodies need to keep professional sports going.

As a sports fan, I believe in its power to improve lives and unite communities as well as its pure entertainment value.

Increasingly however, as a father of young children, I find myself dismayed and bewildered about the mixed messages some sports codes send to fans, especially kids.

Why is it that sporting authorities seem to show scant regard to matters that mean most to fans, and is damaging the very livelihoods they seek to protect? To my mind it’s because short-term revenue is chased above long-term goals of a healthy sport.

And this issue sits firmly at the feet of ruling authorities and government.

To quote a line from the book Who Cares Wins by my Havas Global CEO David Jones’, “the price of doing well today is doing good”. Business leaders and governments can’t afford not to be socially responsible in what he terms ‘the age of damage’; where social media gives a voice to so many and they in turn can so easily bring you down if you aren’t doing the right thing.

To emphasise my point it’s worthwhile understanding the issues that surround the decline in moral standards across sporting codes.

Some athletes and sporting organisations will do anything to win.

Sport, as in business, can bring out both the best and worst in people. The desire to succeed can often cloud moral judgment. In professional sport, sometimes the line can be blurred because many sports people and clubs believe that the other guys are probably doing it anyway and so they convince themselves that it would be wrong not to do whatever it takes to win. Why? Because in the world of professional sport where winning is everything and recognition and reward is showered on the victorious, the desire to be #1 often outweighs to desire to do it right.

Performance enhancing drugs will always be around.

It would be naive to believe that athletes using drugs to improve performance is a recent phenomenon. They have existed in many sports for many years. However eradicating performance enhancing drug use in sport completely will never happen because some people simply don’t believe they negatives outweigh the possible up-side.

Gambling is a big part of the problem

The rise of gambling and its involvement in sporting codes is something that’s increased with alarm over recent years. The ACC report highlights that wagering on sports outside of horseracing activity increased 278% in the ten years from 2000.

One issue  is the rise in exotic bets and the fact you can bet on a team to lose. It strikes me that it might be difficult to convince a whole team to throw a match, however target a single, vulnerable individual and that’s all you need to influence the result on a game (and hence a health pay-out).

Sports journalist and author Peter FitzSimons recently wrote about how some major sporting codes are avoiding any association with gambling. In the US, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on why his sport allows no gambling advertising at games or during coverage: “We want to protect our game and make sure that the people believe that what they see is not influenced by anything from the outside. Gambling is at the heart of that.” It is for this reason that Las Vegas has no professional sports franchises, because no well-run sports want their image besmirched by the gambling brand.

tom waterhouse nineFrom a personal perspective, I refuse to allow my 10 year old son to watch the NRL because of how insidious the way gambling brands are allowed to be involved in the game, especially telecasts. I can’t be the only father that feels that way. Surely a generation of fans is put at risk with this type of behaviour (I note that according to the SMH Channel 9, after crisis meetings with the NRL were scaling back the use of Tom Waterhouse within its coverage after conceding his role between bookmaker and commentator had been ‘blurred’).

Sporting authorities and governments aren’t doing enough

Whilst I’m a fan of self-regulation, it’s clear that in some cases, legislation is the only way to seriously curb issues that are causing damage to society. For example the regulation around promoting gambling on TV forbids its exposure in G-rated programming except for live sporting events. Why? Gambling’s involvement in sports sponsorship is surely going the same way of cigarette and alcohol sponsorship. To my thinking, it’s worse, as the integration of gambling into coverage  normalises gambling behaviour, especially with young people, in a way cigarette and alcohol advertising never did. Gambling companies know this…and worse, sporting administration bodies and governments know this, yet they happily take the money and turn a blind eye.

For all the issues facing sports in Australia, they would be so much better managed if the moral leadership were not so lacking both at the sporting authority and government levels. Thankfully the rise of social media has for the first time enabled (and emboldened) the grass-roots fans to have a voice. And thank goodness that they are. Sports and sports sponsorship will be all the better for it in the future.

Anthony Gregorio is the CEO of Havas Worldwide Australia. 

Encore 2013 issue 10

This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit for a preview of the app or click below to download.


  1. Rosscoe
    15 Apr 13
    2:36 pm

  2. Congratulations, Anthony, firstly on your article and secondly on being a responsible father. The lure of the dollar has unfortunately blind sided many a sports administrator over a seemingly incredibly short period of time. Even, I notice, making an appearance in this morning’s coverage of the golf on TEN (as a coverage sponsor not a sponsor of the sport).
    More journalists and management in positions of influence need to become vocal in the gambling/sports sponsorship discussion or pretty soon the very substance of sport and competition will be lost.

  3. Sportsperson
    16 Apr 13
    10:48 am

  4. As a sportsperson myself, I agree 100% Anthony.

  5. John Grono
    16 Apr 13
    2:34 pm

  6. Excellent article Anthony. I stumbled across the following today that may be of interest. According to the H2 Gambling Capital 2012 report Australia ranks #5 in the world for ‘winnings’ (I prefer to call it pay-outs), with a 5.3% share. Yet as a nation we represent just 0.34% of the world’s population, meaning we punch around 15 times our weight. Pretty scary.

  7. Mufti
    16 Apr 13
    3:29 pm

  8. A very interesting article, particularly given it is by the chief executive of an ad agency that represented the sportswear Skins when it was pinged by the competition regulator for its advertising. Remember those ads that featured famous sportspeople using their gear and supported by the line that they didn’t need to be paid to spruik the products because they were so good. And then it was revealed that they had in fact been paid. Hmmm… what was that you were saying about “the price of doing well today is doing good”.

  9. Anthony Gregorio
    16 Apr 13
    4:33 pm

  10. Thanks for the comments. There was much more I could go on with but my word count meant a lot of culling!

    Mufti – regarding the ACCC/Skins ruling, yes Skins did get penalised for resale price maintenance and misleading conduct in advertising. The readers can see the detail in the media release you have attached. With regard to the advertising component, the agency (The Furnace) was not included in the ruling as, quite simply the ACCC knew we had in no knowledge of the contracts in place with sports stars. There’s a lot more detail I could – but won’t – go into, suffice to say the ACCC have been more than willing to include advertising agencies in similar negative rulings where they believed the agency behaved inappropriately.

    Even though they are no longer clients, Skins and the company owner – Jaimie Fuller – fight the good fight more than any other company regarding integrity in sport. A recent initiative by Jaimie, the organisation Change Cycling Now,, is committed to generating positive change in professional cycling. He’s upsetting a lot of people, and I don’t always agree with his approach, but I don’t see others in the commercial world spending their own money to make things better for everyone (as opposed to further their own interests).


  11. Andrew
    16 Apr 13
    11:52 pm

  12. The lure of the buck outweighs the integrity of the brand!

    17 Apr 13
    11:06 am

  14. OK sports gambling is the worlds worst advertiser, that should be fabulous news for the likes of Maccas, Coke, Hungry Jacks, Tooheys, Fosters, the weight loss companies, the pain relief creams that don’t work, the ‘stick the thing under your tongue and have great sex’ strips companies are all breathing a huge sigh of relief.

    Ask yourself, when Tom Waterhouse or the TAB girls come onto your TV do you rush out and have a bet???? No.. I thought so , neither do I and I’m a punter.
    so is the ad really working???

  15. Alanis Morissette
    18 Apr 13
    9:21 am

  16. Isn’t it ironic that in an article about a lack of moral leadership killing sports sponsorship in Australia, if the writer had his way, millions of dollars worth of sponsorship from gambling companies would be killed? Don’t you think?

  17. Anthony Gregorio
    18 Apr 13
    12:31 pm

  18. Hi Alanis,

    My point, maybe not very well articulated, is that you will kill the sports sponsorship dead if you don’t act in a responsible manner as a whole. The gambling example is one of many, but a pertinent one. I’m not saying there should be a blanket ban on it’s involvement in sport, but I do think that the way gambling has been integrated into content, like the Tom Waterhouse/Ch 9/NRL example, is not a healthy one for the future of the code.

    Another maybe less contentious example but just as relevant to the future of contact sports in Australia is the one of head injuries and concussion on future health issues. In the US thousands of former NFL professionals have filed a class action against the NFL, accusing the league of deliberately concealing information about life-altering brain injuries caused by playing football. It’s a serious problem and will absolutely raise its head locally. If I was at the NRL and thinking about how I was going to encourage more kids to play the game, I think making sure they were doing everything possible to mitigate long term health issues might be a smart thing to do to ensure the future of the sport. Just my personal opinion of course, but acting responsibly I believe is the best way for sports to survive, which is what we all want.


  19. Alan Robertson
    18 Apr 13
    12:48 pm

  20. My elder son is about to go to university to do a degree in sports administration. He already makes comments about the situation in professional sport and clearly has developed his own strong opinions about a lot of the issues, and they appear aligned with Anthony’s.
    Gambling is only one issue. There’s plenty for the next generation to sort out, but integrity in sport is the overriding issue and advertisers won’t tolerate the current situation much longer. Lie with dogs and you’ll get fleas.

  21. Anne Miles
    22 Apr 13
    2:34 pm

  22. It might be time to shift some sponsorship dollars from sport to entertainment – a safer bet perhaps?

  23. Tom
    26 Apr 13
    10:41 am

  24. I hate advertising people talking about morality, its a bit like a prostitute talking up chastity!! This an advertising guy tut tutting sport for taking money from organisations that are a little dubious from a moral perspective. I take it that Havas are capable of vouching for every single client they have on the books. What a hopeless naive platitude fest…