Talking points: @sponsorshipnews conference at Tigerland in Melbourne

Brief: What do you do when the shit hits the fan?

If we were speaking 10 years ago, I would say you’ve got a few days to work it out. Today, I say you have got about two hours to work it out.


On the ‘morning of’ I awoke and through blearily eyes at 7 am and saw the online headlines and then watched the full news conference on Fox Sports.

There were a few material things in that presser that made this a different issue to manage. These changed the normal issues management approach.

1. Smith and Bancroft admitted guilt

2. Smith threw Bancroft under the bus

So that removed the luxury CA would have had to take a few days to get its house in order.

So I saw the presser at 7 am, did some more research and reading and then by 9 am, I saw Peter Fitzsimons had posted an online Twitter poll.

At 9 am, it had about 2k responses of which 90 per cent said Smith and Bancroft had to go.

So, a poll is a poll.


This is my first point of reference. What is the community expectation? By midday, the tribe had spoken and they immediately wanted Smith, Bancroft and Warner off the island.

As an issue manager you have to first pay attention to community expectations, particularly when it is so clear cut and where there’s no ambiguity. CA was boxed in.

Normally you could say, let’s have a full inquiry, we need to get the facts and so on, but with this they admitted guilt – they essentially entered a plea of guilt before sentencing.


So James Sutherland did what I thought was a good presser at midday. He said nearly all the right things.

But he made two bad calls. He hadn’t spoken to Smith himself and he wasn’t jumping on the plane that day. He should have done both.

So the questions James Sutherland should have asked himself was

1. Should have I called the captain and said what’s going on? Yes.

2. Did I misread the situation by not moving quickly? Yes.

So within nine hours of the incident, three players had gone from heroes to villains, three players had probably lost over $20 million in income collectively and CA had four fires with broadcast rights, general community, sponsors and the cricketing community.

And then there Sports Commission and Malcolm Turnbull got on the dance floor and did their own Kabuki.

But full credit to CA, they concluded inquiries by the Wednesday and announced sanctions on the Thursday.

But in the big scheme of things he did OK. 8/10.

These days, I think the whole basis of of issues management is you have to reflect community expectations.

It is like the Banking Industry Royal Commission. Turnbull could have made himself a hero on this. He chose to support the banks and it is blowing up in his face.

Another critical consideration at this time is – what can I legitimately do within the framework of legal risk?

Don’t worry about reputational risk right now. You’re going to have a shit week or few terrible days. The best thing you can do is to stop the bleeding after a few days.

You don’t try and spin at this time. Stick to the facts, the community expectations and the legal framework.


Next… let’s talk about listening, thinking and questioning yourself.

This is my third point is – the biggest decision you have to make is what questions to ask yourself.

So over all, you have to ask yourself a couple of questions as an administrator and sponsor.

As a property owner….

What’s the community expectation?

Are people going to cancel memberships?

Are they going to call for a boycott of your sponsors?

What do we have to do to get the team or individual out of the spotlight ?

How do we look after the individuals? What is our duty of care?

What legal risk are we exposing ourselves to?

Have the players broken their contracts?

As a sponsor…

What is our role here?

What is the community expectation?

What exactly is being asked of us?

What’s the absolute minimum in response we can get away with here?

Are people going to reduce use of our products.

The biggest thing at this time I think is what questions you ask yourself because if you ask the right questions, you will get answers that will guide what you say.

If you ask the wrong questions of yourself or from the wrong perspective, you will make mistakes, turn an issue into a crisis and cause long term reputational damage by appearing tone deaf.


So all in all… the keys are:

What are the community expectations and meeting them

What should the first response be and within what parameters

What questions should I ask of myself and from what perspective

CASE STUDY – VISA AND FIFA – 2009 to 2012

The role of the sponsor….

A sponsor is not a sports governing body and shouldn’t tell sports what to do.

Everyone used to urge Visa to do something about FIFA.

To which I would respond, so how do you think we would feel if FIFA told us how to run our debit card business.

I think it is important for sponsors to not over inflate their place.

So let’s use FIFA as an example.

Visa used to spend USD1 billion a year on marketing when I was there earlier this decade.

A third of that went on sponsorship – Olympics, FIFA and NFL.

What were the issues with FIFA? Corruption and awarding the rights to Qatar.

My view was…

Everyone knows FIFA is corrupt, that’s life.

Everyone knows Qatar bought the tournament, that’s life.

But the public don’t care.

They just want to watch football.

They live for the World Cup.

They love the Socceroos, they love the US National Team, they love the Samurai Blue and some of them love England.

People called on us to resign our sponsorship.

I said no, they’re the sports organiser. We sponsor the FIFA World Cup tournaments and not FIFA the organisations – but in everyone’s interests we would like them to address community concerns and expectations.

Now, Visa is a US company and Americans like to either run the world or think they run the world. There was some internal push to get cross at FIFA.

Likewise, FIFA is largely European and there’s nothing more Europeans like is to tell Americans to piss off.

Being an Australian in the middle was an interesting place to be.

So, argey-barley in the public domain and behind the scenes was not going to get anyone anywhere. And if you must say something, I urge you to do it privately and not via the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times.

And had Visa shook its fist at FIFA, they would have said fine, buggur off… we’ve got MasterCard and American Express knocking at the door.

And our member banks would have been pissed off as they love promoting Visa’s sponsorship with the FIFA World Cup.

So all in all, what’s the big picture here, what did our cardholders and member banks want – you know the people who generate revenue – they wanted us as FIFA sponsor as they got benefit.

There was no evidence of a consumer uprising so I argued business as usual and we as a management team won.


Updated: 1 May 2018