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 encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.


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