The Marketing Threat Posed by Sports Scandals

What a memorable week it has been in the sports world. Too bad none of the memories have occurred on the field of play. The showdown on Capitol Hill between Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee cast baseball in an unfavorable light yet again. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met with U.S. senator Arlen Specter about the New England Patriots "spygate" situation. Indiana University men's basketball coach Kelvin Sampson faces more allegations of improper recruiting activities. Some people wonder what the big deal is in all of these cases. After all, cheating has probably been going on as long as the concept of competition has existed!

The common thread in this week's sports headlines is that unethical behavior poses a threat to the integrity of the brands involved. Companies in virtually all industries profess to place a premium on ethical conduct in their dealings with customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. If businesses breach the trust of a stakeholder group, they suffer financial consequences (e.g., lost sales, employee turnover) or even legal consequences such as fines or other sanctions. The sports industry must realize that it can suffer the same consequences if unethical behavior is not brought under control.

Let's face it- the NFL, MLB, NCAA, and their member franchises or institutions are all brands. If the reputation of a brand is eroded and its credibility is called into question, it loses its power in the marketplace. Sports brands hold a special place in our society because of the passionate relationships so many people have with their favorite sports and teams. But, those relationships could be negatively impacted if steps are not taken to curb unacceptable behavior. Sports consumption is not a necessity, and if sport properties want to remain relevant they must make it a priority to operate with the utmost integrity.