An athlete’s brand may not be their bread and butter, but an athlete’s brand has the potential to provide income that will flow well into their retirement.
An Athlete can make intentional or unintentional changes to their brand that cause damage to their marketability as a public figure. Through poorly executed business decisions, changes to their public image and poor choices, the risk Athlete’s incur are tenfold due to the limelight they are positioned under as sports and cultural icons.
Vultures are forever present throughout the sports world, always looking to capitalise off an Athlete’s mistakes, and therefore the decisions Athlete’s and their Agents make are crucial to the survival of the Athlete’s brand.
In this blog, we will breakdown two high-profile Athlete’s private and public business decisions that led to the demise of their brand both in and away from their sport.
Rugby Martyrdom – Israel Folau
Israel Folau was Rugby Australia’s gem. But Folau’s career as an international rugby star ended in 2019 because of his decision to make public his thoughts on topics that were confronting to most Australian’s.
As a rugby star, Folau was admired for his sensational acts of skill on the rugby paddock, and therefore when Folau chose to oppose RA’s decision to support same-sex marriage with controversial statements, he significantly impacted the perception of his brand to the Australian public and lost the support of many of his fans.
Folau continued his tirade of career defining remarks by commenting on homosexuality, religion and climate change, continuing to lose the respect and interest of fans, media and potential employers. As a result Folau lost millions of dollars in contracts, deals and opportunities. RA terminated his contract shortly after his remarks, and associated brands like Qantas demanded to break ties to limit the impact of Folau’s actions on their own brands.
From Folau’s mistakes, Athletes can learn that your personal opinions may not always be returned with a positive response. Despite modern culture supporting beliefs of freedom of speech and religion, Folau’s attempt to promote this belief, due to his position within the public’s eye, was viewed as ignorant. Athletes need to understand the associated risk of pushing the boundaries of their brands into controversial topics, and the impact this may have on their careers and commercial opportunities.
Death Of A Thousand Affairs – Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods’ was at the peak of his career as the most influential and endorsed athlete in the world. But when the skeletons of his private affairs came to light and made it’s way to the media, Tiger’s career died a death of a thousand cuts.
When dozens of women stepped towards to cameras to give their story of their affair with a married Tiger, it destroyed his image as a family man, and his performances on the green were quickly overshadowed. At his level of stardom, a single affair accusation would have caused minimal damage to Tiger’s career. However, after 120+ affairs were uncovered with women beginning in 2009, the public image of Tiger changed from charming to creepy, and from classy to classless.
The effects of the drama caused Tiger’s performances on the green to spiral and his career plummeted into complete darkness for the best part of a decade. Tiger was lucky to rejuvenate his career in 2019. Despite many brands sticking with him and new ones coming onboard in recent years, many of the income streams that once supported his billion-dollar empire no longer exist.
Tiger’s story highlights the importance of an Athletes behaviour away from the cameras and the importance of keeping an Athlete’s brand genuine and authentic. In this case it was also apparent that the management team around Tiger were ill-prepared for the truth of the Athlete’s lifestyle to break and many feel the situation was mismanaged causing additional brand damage.
The role of a Brand Manager in these situations is vital because when negative news breaks about an Athlete a contingency plan made by the Brand Manager can become the difference between temporary and permanent damage to the Athlete’s brand.
Israel Folau and Tiger Woods’ overnight downfalls are every Athletes nightmare. They serve as constant reminders of the fragility of an Athlete’s personal brand, as a simple change, whether good or bad, can destroy an Athlete’s marketability and their ability to perform at a professional level.
An Athlete’s brand is ultimately like a building; the richer the owner of the building, the bigger the building; and the more changes you make to a bigger building’s foundations, the greater the risk of the building cascading to the ground.
As an athlete it's important that if there are private stories or beliefs which may negatively impact your Athlete brand that you have a Brand Manager aware and pre-prepared to respond and manage any situations to minimise potential damage. Agency X is experienced in managing these situations and can assist you in ensuring you have a plan in place to manage any potential negative publicity.