The Role of Scandal and Corruption in Sports Marketing and Sponsorship

Article excerpt

The media and their audiences have salacious appetites for scandal, be it sex, drugs, cheating or spying. One might expect that the apparent ubiquity of scandal and corruption in sport would see advertisers and sponsors fearful of linking their brands to fallen heroes. Indeed, the threat of mass abandonment by commercial partners has been linked to the large sums of money invested in anti doping (Carstairs, 2003). However, this negative assumption about scandal and corruption in sport may be unnecessarily bleak. With some notable exceptions (including the cycling Tour of Germany and, more recently, golfer Tiger Woods), evidence that sponsors abandon sport because of scandal or corruption is at best patchy. Advertisers still clamour for space in the Super Bowl, for example, despite NFL players being arrested for murder, drug trafficking and sexual assault. Internationally, the Salt Lake City Olympics showed that sport can thrive in the presence of scandal and corruption and, indeed, scandalous corruption. Perhaps, the old adage that any publicity is good publicity applies.

As editors of this special edition, we asked a very basic question of our contributors: what relationship does scandal and corruption have with the marketing and sponsorship of sport? If there is a relationship, what opportunities and drawbacks exist for marketers? What lessons can be learned from past scandals and the response to them, and what does this mean for sport?

The effect of scandal in sport is a remarkably topical field of study. Several other journals have devoted special issues to the problem of scandal, with the 2008 issue of Public Relations Review focusing particularly well on public relations and sport. What is curious is the question as to why there is currently so much interest in this area, especially given that scandal and sport have always gone together as far back as the original Greek Olympics. Further, there has certainly been no shortage of scandal during the past hundred years of semi professional and professional sport.

What we are now seeing is the confluence of a number of processes that, when combined in the context of sport, have created a new way of viewing scandal. …