Is Roger Next?
We all know the Tiger Woods saga, scandal, nose-dive, whatever you want to call it, but did we ever find out where he was going that night when he crashed his car? Well now you will know - brace yourself! After his fight with Elin, he jumped in the car to deliver the baton of most desirable and marketable international athlete to Roger Federer. Now due to the accident, Roger may not have received it that night, but don't worry, he has it now and is currently showcasing it on the world's biggest stage, the US Tennis Open. But should we be worried? It hasn't only been Woods who has fumbled in the spotlight, causing corporate sponsors to scurry into their board rooms and discuss their million dollar investments.
Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Michael Phelps to start. A number of years ago David Beckham found himself in a cheating scandal similar to Woods, though dismissed by Beckham and his pop-star wife. Lance Armstrong is now finding himself in the most serious doping accusations of his career. The list gets much longer on the US domestic scene. Alex Rodriguez, Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, Greg Oden, Mike Tyson, Michael Vick, Ben Rothlisberger. Where to start? Where to end? We've seen it all from DWIs to cheating on spouses to dog fighting to sending naked photos to a girlfriend. And it doesn't take much time, especially with today's social media landscape, for pictures (ask Greg Oden), videos, audio, texts, etc., to circulate around the world and cause sponsors to go in a panic. Few athletes have yet to realize that their lives are under the most powerful microscopes and that even sending naked pictures to your girlfriend could end in a PR and marketing nightmare.
But if anyone may be the model athlete both on and off the playing field, it just may be Roger Federer. And while Woods may have exited stage left, Federer now has the brightest spotlight on stage (a stage that he has been on since around 2003 when he started raking up the Grand Tour wins).
- Results & Records- Winner of 16 career Grand Slam single titles (a male record), as well as list of achievements that would call for an entirely separate blog.
- International Sport & Locations- Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour is played on all continents except Antarctica making Federer a global figure and personality.
- Philanthropist- Federer established the Roger Federer Foundation in 2003 to help underprivileged children throughout the world. He's also done work for UNICEF and arranged the “Hit for Haiti” event at the 2010 Australian Open after the devastating earthquake. Most recently he was named the 2010 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in recognition of his leadership and contributions to society.
- Good looking- He's graced the cover of GQ and has won the magazine’s International Man of the Year award.
- Family Man- Federer married his long-time girlfriend and former Women's Tennis Association player Mirka Vavrinec. The couple has twin girls and the family reportedly travels with Roger to all events (note: good way to reduce the chances of affairs)
- Professional demeanor on and off the court- Federer has one of the best reputations, both on and off the court. He rarely throws a temper tantrum and when he does it is never at the fans (unlike Woods who would publicly berate fans). Competitors speak favorably of Federer and he has a great (at least public) relationship with his main rival and current world #1 tennis player Rafa Nadal.
With everything mentioned above (and more), it's no surprise that Federer is one of the most followed (4+ million Facebook fans) and revered athletes in the world. And brands certainly have realized Federer's global marketing power. From Nike creating a signature tennis line, to Rolex, Gillette, Mercedes-Benz, Credit Suisse and Warren Buffet's NetJets. Even Swiss chocolate-maker Lindt has realized that their national hero may be the sweetest thing to their success. But is Roger Federer too good to be true? Will he stumble and fumble like his good friend and fellow Nike athlete Tiger Woods? Well, for many reasons, I hope not. But have we, as sports business professionals, changed the way we analyze, deal and formulate relationships with athletes? Here are some of my insights and takeaways:
- Sponsorships and endorsements are risks. Anytime you associate yourself with a person, team or event, there is a risk that something can go terribly wrong and that it can be reflected back on the brand. That said, the most successful companies in the world are built on these risks. But are they calculated risks? How deep have corporations gone into doing their homework on the athlete; looking beyond the playing field? Would you give the keys to your house to a neighbor if you didn't know him or her too well? If you look at Michael Vick's history and prior relationships, are we surprised with how things ended up? Ok, maybe you couldn't predict the dog-fighting, but actions like giving the middle finger to fans is certainly not something many brands want to associate themselves with. Of course, no matter how many calculations you make, you may be blind-sided by the actions of the athlete you are sponsoring.
- Let's be honest. I doubt companies like Accenture, Gatorade and AT&T regret their partnership with Woods. They may not publicly say it, but Woods brought a lot to each brand and the upside probably outweighs the downside. Of course, no one wanted it to end the way it did, but if they had to do it all over again, would they still have partnered with Woods? In your meetings, evaluate what the success of the athlete's involvement with your brand should look like (before you decide to sign the deal). And be prepared for crisis situations - no one is immune.
- Understand your brand's target markets and what's important to them in sponsorship. How does certain "negative" actions (and what are they?) of athletes affect them, if at all, and their loyalty to the brand? What’s important to Accenture’s consumers may not be overly important to Nike’s consumers?
- Be careful of building your entire marketing campaign around one event or person. Accenture fell into this and plastered Tiger's image on every marketing campaign (was Tiger Woods Accenture ads in every airport?), while other sponsors like Tag Heuer decided to keep Woods on board, but for the time being focus elsewhere. As the saying goes, "don't put all your eggs in one basket."
- In the day of agents, managers and handlers, brands should not finalize any deal without having at least one face to face meeting with their potential endorser. The agents can do the financial negotiations, but I strongly believe it's crucial to have a direct meeting with the athlete prior to signing the deal to discuss the brand's goals, why they want to partner with that athlete and their expectations (as well as directly answer any questions the athlete has). Don't just use the athlete as a tool or vehicle, but make sure that they understand that you are inviting them into your "family" and what the brand's expectations are both on AND off the field. It’s all about relationships!
- I think and hope that nowadays every sponsorship contract has moral and bad behavior clauses. It's important that these clauses are not necessarily tied to legal judgments, but rather any behavior that can damage the image, brand and/or relationship. Recently, I've seen some companies put in a Q Score (measures consumer appeal) benchmark for athletes. If an athlete falls under the Q Score benchmark the sponsorship fee could be reduced or the contract terminated. Athletes’ dating relationships or who they choose to surround themselves with can affect their Q Score. It holds athletes to a measurable, objective standard. The Q Score may also be valuable in evaluating whether to sponsor an athlete or event.
- Don't think sponsoring a team is necessarily safer than individuals. See the French National Team at the World Cup debacle. Indirectly or directly, it's the athletes that are tied to or represent the team or event.
What are some of your insights when it comes to athletes and sponsorships?
And let's end on a positive note ... There's been a lot of negative talk surrounding Woods this year, but Woods does have at least one win this year. Last month he was awarded the Best Athlete Website Award by SportsBusiness Group International. It's a great website and there's really only one main difference between this year and last year ... There's a few logos missing on the "Partners" page.