Can brand cricket survive the ball tampering crisis

By Andrew Baxter, Marketing & Communications Advisor

11 July, 2018

According to AFR Weekend’s Top 50 Australian sports earners last year, David Warner and Steve Smith earned just over A$8m between them. It was from a combination of their Australian contracts, IPL contracts and brand endorsements. After the infamous Cape Town ball-tampering incident, they’ll earn next to nothing over the ensuing 12 months, as their playing contracts have been suspended and their endorsement contracts annulled.

They’ve also lost their personal brand reputations. And Cricket Australia’s brand has taken a hit too. Subsequently they too have an income issue, with major sponsor Magellan walking away from a 3 year A$24m sponsorship deal.

The question is, can the players’ and the organisation’s brand reputation be restored, and in turn once again attract major sponsors?

Brands live in the hearts and minds of people. And there is a strong underlying emotional connection Australians already have with our cricket team.

Brands, like people, have a history of being forgiven for making one mistake, but not for making the same mistake multiple times. Consumers forgave Apple after their 2010 iPhone4 issues. They eventually also forgave Vodafone for their 2011 Vodafail. And Qantas took only two years to restore their brand reputation measures after the 2011 strike.

In sport, other perceived cheating incidents like Melbourne Storm’s 2010 salary cap rort and Essendon and Cronulla’s peptide programs have also been overcome in three to five years from a brand reputation point of view. Again they proved to be one offs, albeit big ones.

It provides a window of hope for Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft and Cricket Australia.

It was Swimming Australia that has never quite returned to their brand reputational heights, after multiple disciplinary issues including repeated Stilnox incidents. Like cricket’s current ball-tampering crisis, the root cause was put down to leadership and cultural problems within the team.

It’s a familiar story in politics, with the Liberal and Labor parties enduring multiple controversies in the last decade that have negatively affected their brand, with few signs of a reputational turnaround led by forgiving voters. It’s this scenario that is the problem for David Warner. In 2013 he went through Twitter wars with journalists, the Joe Root punch, and his failure to turn up to a grade cricket match. And now in 2018 the staircase incident with Quenton de Kock and the ball-tampering. It’s a long list for fans and sponsors to forgive, and a long way for his personal brand to recover from.

The key to restoring the brand reputation of a person, company or organisation is to understand that brands are built on four dimensions. First, how different the brand is. For example, Vegemite is very different from other food brands. Second, how relevant a brand is to people. Chanel is relevant to only a small group of people, whereas Woolworths is relevant to everybody. Third is the perceived quality and popularity of a brand. Even if you’ve never driven a Holden, you have an opinion on how good their cars are. Finally, how much people know and understand a brand. Most Australians know that Qantas has a white kangaroo on the tail and has a great safety record.

After the salary cap issue, Melbourne Storm focused on the latter two dimensions – improving the quality of its brand and giving people a deeper understanding of their brand. The highlights were transparency, honesty, leadership, a strong sense of community, respectfulness, and hard work both on and off the field. The team walked before they talked. Craig Bellamy and Cameron Smith became leaders to admire via their actions. When their major sponsor left, they replaced the sponsor’s logo on their guernseys with a different charity each week. They made sure the salary cap issue was a one-off. In turn the brand was restored in three years.

There are good lessons to be learned for Cricket Australia, Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft and David Warner. Already Smith in particular has followed the transparent and honest path; his raw and real self.

For sponsors, the most basic endorsements are the easiest to rationalise at this time. The brands with the clear links to the cricketer or the cricketing body. Cricket bat companies. Sports clothing and footwear brands. It’s the brands who have chosen the cricketers or Cricket Australia for their shared values that will be more at risk. Family brands like KFC, BUPA, Commonwealth Bank and Toyota. Brands like Qantas who Alan Joyce reminded us share that “significance of a fair go” with the Australian cricket team. These inconsistent values were the reason Magellan’s CEO gave for terminating their partnership with Cricket Australia.

It’s been a tough week for our cricketers and Cricket Australia, but there are brand lessons from the past that can guide them to a positive longer term outcome.