By Dr Jason Doyle
People assess brands based on all the various pieces of information that are attached to the brand – basically anything that comes to mind when they think of them.
When people think of sport brands, they can be influenced by not only what they know about the team and its players, but also the management, the associated sponsors, and certainly the fans too. The potential impacts for sport organisations can be severe when they fail to address the wrongdoings of individuals attached to the organisation.
There are numerous incidents where players transgress and become involved in scandals involving things like alcohol or domestic violence. This also extends to officials and fans too.
The Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal from a few years ago was a good example of how actions of management damaged the brand and led fans to walk away from the team. The Essendon doping scandal was handled quite poorly by the players and management, and their silence and lack of action only led to more questions being asked.
In the 2000s there was a small batch of Canterbury Bankstown supporters who enjoyed causing trouble (and on trains after the games too) which positioned the Bulldogs as a pretty unpopular organisation at the time. They went to great lengths to change those perceptions by handing out life bans for troublemakers and in 2013 became the first NRL team to hire a female CEO which was, in part, a tactic to improve their appeal to women.
Many fans derive a part of their own self-identity from the sport teams they support, so when something about that team doesn’t align with their desired image that causes a disruption in terms of how positively they might view the team.
A few bad apples can definitely ruin the bunch and research has shown how management responses to scandals play a big part in the effects that the brand might experience.
By coming out swiftly and clearly denouncing actions (whether they are those of players, coaches, management, sponsors or fans) that do not align with what the club stands for, sport teams can reaffirm what it is they stand for and what they do not.
When teams are silent on issues or do not adequately or promptly address issues, people associate those actions as being accepted by the team. Port Adelaide has made it very clear that it does not condone the actions of this one fan, and that her actions do not represent the overarching perceptions of Power fans, or the organisation itself.
The indefinite suspension of her membership and the invitation for the fan to complete an Aboriginal cultural awareness program extended by Port Adelaide president David Koch are illustrative of swift corrective actions that clearly denounce this type of behaviour.
Dr Jason Doyle is an expert in Australian sports branding at Griffith Business School