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Company has no time for cheats

Thursday, 18 October 2012 - 2:24pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
When Wayne Rooney faced allegations two years ago that he had betrayed his wife, Coca-Cola wasted little time in terminating its 600,000 pounds advertising deal with the Manchester United footballer.

When Wayne Rooney faced allegations two years ago that he had betrayed his wife, Coca-Cola wasted little time in terminating its 600,000 pounds advertising deal with the Manchester United footballer.

Tiger Woods' sexual infidelities proved even more costly as the golfer's multi-million dollar endorsement deals with Gillette, Accenture, Gatorade and Tag Hauer were brought to a swift end.

But in both cases there was one sponsor that remained steadfast in its support. Nike, the American sportswear giant, refused to join the exodus of Woods's departing sponsors and, once the furore over his bed-hopping had subsided, the company relaunched the golfer's career with a TV commercial featuring a voice-over by Woods' deceased father, Earl.

Similar loyalty was shown to Rooney who, at the height of the claims about his private life, even found refuge from the media at Nike World Headquarters in Oregon.

Nike also kept faith with NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant in 2003 when he was under investigation for sexual assault, before the case was dropped.

Loyalty appears to be Nike's watchword - a policy that must have heartened Lance Armstrong last week when the United States Anti-Doping Agency published its investigation into his drug-taking. And sure enough, the company was swift to back its man, reissuing a statement it first released in August. "Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position," it said. "Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors."

But not everyone was convinced. Nigel Currie, a director of leading sponsorship and sports marketing company Brand Rapport, smelled a "holding statement" designed to buy some time before Armstrong was quietly dropped at a later date.

"I think they just underestimated the story and how big it was going to get," said Currie. "As a sports brand, they obviously believe he's cheated and the damage of that cheating to one of the biggest sports brands in the world could be significant.

"Sponsors traditionally try to let the storm die down and then take action when it's a bit quieter but the fact that they have done it so quickly shows how big it is for them."

A closer inspection of Nike's history supports the view that it was only a matter of time before Armstrong was cut adrift. While the company has been tolerant of indiscretions away from the sports field, it has been ruthless in its rejection of athletes who have cheated on it.

Like Armstrong, American athlete Marion Jones was once the face of Nike until allegations surfaced about her involvement in the BALCO drug conspiracy.

The company refused to offer her a new endorsement deal in 2005 - two years before she confessed to drug-taking at her perjury trial.

The message was clear. Loyalty was one thing, but drug cheats had no place wearing the Nike 'swoosh'.

 


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