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Guard Against Falling Stars

Hubble Image of Stellar Bow Shock” NASA, ESA, and R. Sahai (NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Guard against falling stars to protect the image and reputation of brands whose products, services and organizations are directly associated with sports celebrities. When the reputation of well-known athletes begins to fall, what happens to the brands they endorse? When negotiating celebrity agreements, how can sports marketers anticipate potential problems and safeguard their sports properties?

The personification of a brand is reflected in its image and in the image of those with whom it associates. Capitalizing on the celebrity status of star athletes boosts the image and reputation of your sports property.  Branding with star power has great advantages. For superstars with global appeal, celebrity endorsements and multinational brands can transcend cultural barriers and geographic boundaries. When the image glows, the brands shine. Sports brands have the potential to glow in the halo effect of celebrities with star power. However, brands can loose their shine just as quickly when these superstars fall out of favor.

On the bright side, sports celebrities offer many benefits to the sports properties and their affiliated sponsors. From years of experience working with athletes, I know they can add value by enhancing the brand image and goodwill of the products, services and organizations they promote.

Six Benefits of Associating with Sports Celebrities:

  1. Sports celebrities have the ability to connect with audiences and inspire fans.
  2. They attract media coverage.
  3. Sports celebrities provide opportunities for client engagement and entertainment.
  4. Their personalities enhance the character of the brands they represent.
  5. Athletes are often the best ambassadors for sports from which their reputations were made.
  6. As spokespeople, sports celebrities promote the sports and their sponsoring properties.

Bank Goodwill & Reward Success. While the reputation of a sports celebrity is on the rise, build on his or her success. Identify and align your brand with emerging and seasoned superstars. Generate goodwill value for the brand in association with the image, personality and achievements of star athletes. Capitalize on opportunities to associate sports brands with super stars on and off the field. Encourage and reward their success by negotiating a bonus provision tied to positive brand exposure. Don’t overlook retired athletes. They make wonderful marketing partners.

Be aware of falling stars. There can be disadvantages of associating with some superstars. A celebrity that does not live up to the core values and image of his or her organization causes the brand more harm than good. We’ve all seen situations in the news when a popular sports celebrity is publicly chastised for unethical, immoral, or unbecoming behavior. This public humiliation reflects negatively on the superstar’s sponsors and the endorsed brands.

Take precautions. As sports marketers, we have to take precautions to guard against the downfall of celebrities that promote our brands. Behavior damaging to a celebrity’s image is also likely to tarnish the image and reputation of the represented sports brand. There is a preventative measure that can be negotiated upfront to help protect brand image in the unlikely event a celebrity acts out in an unpredicted and unbecoming manner.

Negotiate protective measures. An ethics provision is one of the best preventative measures. This type of provision is designed to serve as a deterrent. Penalties may be stipulated in advance. For example, the parties could agree on a holdback provision to be implemented in the event of a breach. Consider in advance how damages will be measured. This can be tricky. What are the implications to the brand and the potential impact on financial performance to the business?

At a minimum, I believe a sports celebrity agreement should allow a sponsor to disassociate its brand from any celebrity who violates the company’s documented ethics policy. Immediate suspension or possible termination of the celebrity relationship may be necessary and appropriate.

Plan for crisis management and damage control. Once damage occurs, it becomes a crisis management situation not a brand-building opportunity. It’s generally a good idea to have defined crisis management plans in place. It’s always best to be prepared. Don’t wait until you’re faced with a crisis. Take pro-active measures to guard against falling stars. When the celebrity’s reputation begins to fall, it’s time for damage control. Time to consider a change.

In Part 1 Brand With Star Power, I discussed the advantages and disadvantages of associating sports properties with well-known sports celebrities and corporate sponsors. In Part 3 of this three-part series, I will focus on relationships between sports properties and their corporate marketing partners and on what to do When a Brand Looses Its Shine.


  © 2012 Anne Wall, All Rights Reserved.

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