Both Tiger Woods and Ben Rothlesberger have had their public image severly tarnished through acts of indecency over the past few years. Now while you would be hard pressed to call either of them role models after learning about their less than stellar ethics, both of them have managed to maintain high profile sponsorship deals for playing their respective sports.
This raises a very interesting question when thinking about sponsorship of individual athletes. Is it OK for companies to focus their marketing dollars on people that display negative moral actions, even if their on field (or on the course in Tiger’s case) performance is excellent? Should sponsors be held to an ethical standard? This is a debate that could go round about many times. However, even if sponsors continue to support people like Tiger and Ben, perhaps they should also look to partner with certain athletes that the public holds in high regard.
Just a few days ago, hockey star Brooks Laich was driving home after his team, the Washington Capitals, suffered a crushing Game 7 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL playoffs, when he noticed two stranded motorists on the side of the road. Laich went on to pull over and change the tire for what happened to be two of his biggest fans. Although the mother/ daughter fan combo were upset about the car and the game loss, they could not have had better things to say about Laiche, who they referred to as an “angel” in a Washington Post article. The same article also resulted in hundreds of postive fan comments about Laiche and how “he is such a great guy”.
What about Brian Davis? Two weeks ago he gave up the chance of winning his first ever PGA tour event through an act of incredible sportsmanship. Davis, who was in the midst of a playoff with Jim Furyk, called himself out on a penalty that went unoticed. This ultimately cost him two strokes and the tournament. Again, after seeing this display of moral fortitude, feedback from fans around the world was exceedingly positive.
Perhaps teaming up with the “good reputation” guys that we mentioned above, will not only help sponsors reach sports fans, but their partnership with these positive icons can translate into brand recognition amongst the general public. Of course, we do understand that endemic brands like Nike will continue to sponsor athletes based on performance merits, but perhaps they can put a bit more effort into marketing themselves alongside some of the more virtuous athletes in the business.