Posted by Patrick Giffney
Australia’s largest airline, Qantas, faces a tough decision following the ball-tampering scandal that has caused international outcry and put increased strain on their relationship with Cricket Australia.
So, what happened and what should Qantas do next?
The cricketing world is in a state of disbelief following events in Cape Town last weekend, where the Australian team were caught red-handed and admitted to ball-tampering. The Captain, Vice-Captain and another team member have already been suspended following an internal investigation by Cricket Australia.
A key question facing Australian cricket’s governing body will be the impact the scandal has on its reputation as well as key sponsorship deals such as their partnership with airline, Qantas. Do brands want to be associated with this kind of behaviour and at what point do they say, enough is enough?
Investment firm and naming rights sponsor, Magellan, only agreed its partnership with Cricket Australia in August 2017 but have already taken the decision to end the deal stating events in South Africa are 'so inconsistent' with its values. The players themselves have also felt the impact of the scandal, Vice-Captain David Warner, lost major sponsorship deals with LG and Asics, while the youngest player involved, Cameron Bancroft was also dropped by Asics.
For a global airline such as Qantas this could have a major impact on its brand, the company now faces a decision on whether it is prepared to stick by Cricket Australia or if its vision to be an ‘Airline that champion’s the spirit of Australia’ is more important.
Qantas only agreed to renew its deal with Cricket Australia in October 2017 and became title shirt sponsor stating at the time: ‘As the national carrier, we are thrilled to be extending our support of these great Australian sportspeople on the world stage. Putting that jersey on brings a sense of pride to players and fans and we’re proud to be part of that.’
Events in Cape Town have dramatically reduced that sense of pride and will no doubt lead to major questions being asked. Amongst their core values are ‘genuine’, ‘together’ and ‘inventive’, none of which it would want to be associated with cheating.
Though some will argue that the situation does not warrant termination of its association with Cricket Australia as the punishment does not fit the crime. Many will view incidents involving Lance Armstrong and Maria Sharapova as far worse, but just as the use of drugs is viewed in cycling the issue of ball tampering is viewed in cricket. It goes against everything the sport stands for and directly contradicts the spirit of the game.
How have brands reacted to sporting scandal in the past?
In 2015 football’s world governing body, FIFA, was hit by claims of corruption which led to five of the world’s top brands withdrawing their support for the association. Sony, Emirates, Castrol, Continental and Johnson & Johnson all severed ties with FIFA following allegations of wrong-doing surrounding the World Cup bidding process which led to an estimated £1 billion loss of revenue every four years.
In its initial response to the scandal Qantas said it was ‘very disappointed’ by the controversy and wanted authorities to urgently complete an inquiry and take appropriate action against those involved. Its stance will no doubt change following the results of the investigation but from a brand perspective it seems to be a considered approach with no knee-jerk reaction.
A similar ball-tampering scandal hit the NFL in 2015 when the New England Patriots and their poster boy quarterback, Tom Brady, were accused of deflating balls during a match which subsequently lead to an investigation and Brady being suspended for four games. As one of the NFL’s biggest names and with annual endorsement deals worth an estimated $7m it was suggested the ‘Brady brand’ could be in trouble, however, unlike the Australian cricketers, his major sponsors, including the likes of Under Armour, stood by him.
Historically, major brands withdraw support following scandals and Qantas face a major decision following events that go so far against its own core values. However, at this stage would it be unfair for the sponsorship to be withdrawn based on the actions of a few, albeit senior, members of the team? Only time will tell if the Aussie’s will arrive on these shores courtesy of Qantas this summer.