The Essendon drug saga will have little to no affect on the AFL’s popularity and bottom line, but the scandal does offer a unique opportunity for brands.
The director of M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment, Jack Lamacraft, believes a brand could help “clean things up”.
“There is an opportunity for a brand to take a stance against the lack of integrity that seems to be in all sport at the moment, although fans will continue to be fans there is definitely scepticism around in general at the moment,” he told B&T.
While John Tripodi, chief executive of Twenty3 Sport and Entertainment, agrees it’s an opportunity he believes brands would need to tread carefully.
“If a brand did decide to do this, then the brand would need to be fully committed to the exercise over the long term and it needs to ensure everything in its own backyard – from a governance and integrity perspective – is very robust,” Tripodi explained.
“If the execution of the association is not credible and meaningful then there is a risk that the brand would be seen by consumers to be 'cashing in' and taking the moral high ground in a tactical way.”
Interest in the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority’s (ASADA) interim report into Essendon Football Club’s use of potentially banned substances is high.
Despite the AFL recently charging coach James Hird and two other Essendon officials with conduct unbecoming and bringing the game into disrepute Lamacraft says it will have “very little affect” on the game.
“The game is in an incredibly strong position with dedicated fans who love the sport. Ultimately the product the fans are buying remains unchanged, the game they are passionate about is the same.”
The marketers of AFL sponsoring brands will be thinking how it is affecting their brand image but both Tripodi and Lamacraft doubt brands will walk from the game.
“The AFL and NRL environment will always remain attractive to potential sponsors, despite the low points, given the eyeballs they attract in Australia,” Tripodi said.
“As long as the sponsors feel that they are being kept across all the relevant information then I see no reason why they would abandon the sport,” Lamacraft added.
Kia is Essendon’s co-major sponsor; the five year deal was signed in 2011 and at the time was described as one of the largest co-major partnerships in the AFL and one of the largest individual sponsorships in Australian sport.
A Kia spokesperson told B&T that the car brand will not be making decisions based on the interim report.
“We have not changed our position from the outset, we will not be making any determinations until such time as this has run its full course. We will then reassess the situation as it stands and make a decision.”
“At the moment nothing has changed.”
True Value Solar, Essendon’s other co-major sponsor, did not respond to B&T’s comment request.