Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On The Ball: Are Team Sponsors Going Too Far?

We all know that, more than ever before, the business side of pro sports is just as important to teams as the sport itself, but how far is too far?

Whether it’s an athlete losing endorsements because of slip-ups in his or her personal life (Tiger Woods, for example) or a sponsor threatening to pull its money over a league’s decision (Air Canada’s empty threats to the NHL), it’s all about the almighty dollar in pro sports these days. Here’s one I’ve never seen before though – I honestly thought this story from Britain’s The Guardian was an April Fools’ joke when I first read it:

“Standard Chartered wants Liverpool to sign more players from Asia.”

Imagine my surprise when I read the article and realized that it wasn’t a joke at all – the bank says it wants the team to sign some Asian players so that it can “exploit one of [its] largest markets.” Is this really happening? Are they really telling the team that they want them to buy players based on nationality first and skill second? Do they not understand how soccer works?

Here’s what Standard Chartered’s head of corporate affairs, Gavin Law, told The Guardian:

“We would love the club to have players of nationalities from the markets in which we operate. They are not going to get them from all 75, but if they could sign some – if they could get a Korean, Indian, Chinese player – look what Park [Ji-sung] has done for [Manchester] United in terms of coverage in Korea.”

Ridiculous! My favorite part of that quote is when Law concedes that, unfortunately, the team won’t be able to buy a player from each of the 75 countries the bank operates in. Yeah, I guess not eh?

So, if you’ve ever wondered just how much of a business pro sports has become, here it is: Sponsor wants to sell more shirts, demands the purchase of foreign players from heavily populated countries!

While it is true that nabbing an Asian superstar would almost certainly result in a huge spike in merchandise sales and coverage of the team, the fact that a sponsor is coming out and asking for it, solely for that reason, is just too far if you ask me! What’s crazy about the whole situation is that the team basically has to at least consider the idea as Standard Chartered pays them over $31-million per season, a football record, to paste its company name on the front of the Liverpool jersey!

It doesn’t end there either, as The Guardian also reports that the bank has spoken to the club about toughening up its code of conduct for the players. Are they meddling too much? I say yes!

I know they are paying a lot of money to be associated with the team, but there’s a line they just shouldn’t be crossing.

What do you think: How far should sponsors be able to go when it comes to the team they are advertising with?

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