Pistorius: What’s Sponsorship Got To Do With It? – Ben Wells

February 22, 2013

Like most people, I was shocked to wake up on Valentine’s day to hear news of a shooting at Oscar Pistorius’ house in Pretoria. Shock quickly turned to concern for those involved and before long the super-human athlete whom I had been privileged to watch in the flesh during the London Olympics was being dissected in microscopic detail by an array of armchair pundits.

Pistorius’ “dark side” was laid bare by countless people – many of whom should have known better – and who, with unabashed gumption identified several episodes which they felt uncomfortable about, though not so uncomfortable that they had said anything at the time. It’s true that Pistorius’ sour reaction to losing the T44 200m final in London was given widespread coverage at the time but – aided by the comparatively open drip feed of “facts” surrounding the murder case into the public domain and the viral nature of social media – pundits employing twisted hindsight, salacious gossipers and sadly, many revelling in his downfall have created an image of a man that may or may not be accurate, but which prejudges his trial in a court of law. Matthew Syed’s Thunderer piece in the Times this week was a fitting and justified response to those being wise after the event.

Of course, an athlete as high-profile as Pistorius – who let us not forget is both a Paralympian and an Olympian – comes backed by a number of equally high-profile sponsors, amongst them BT, Nike and Oakley. In recent years Nike have experienced first-hand the double-edged sword that is athlete endorsement, with the Pistorius case following hard on the heels of those of Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods. BT have chosen to maintain a respectful silence but Nike and Oakley both felt compelled to announce they have suspended their relationship with the athlete. (When the going gets tough, some sponsors get out, there’s a blogpost in that somewhere). 

Since the incident I’ve read several articles about the sponsors’ “view” on Pistorius and how the case might affect his “brand”, a question which beggars belief. Have we lost sight of the fact that a woman is dead? We know media outlets need to fill space but is the future earning potential of the supposed perpetrator really relevant to what is in reality, a human tragedy? Comparing the cases of Armstrong and Woods with a case of alleged premeditated murder is not only fatuous but utterly disrespectful to those bereaved and makes our industry look opportunistic and shallow. Those contributing to the debate ought to be ashamed.

About Ben Wells:

Ben has fifteen years’ experience in the commercial side of sport. Having spent six years at Chelsea FC, where he was Head of Marketing, Ben launched Ishtar Consulting in 2011 with a view to providing specialist sponsorship and marketing support to brands, rightsholders and agencies. Prior to his time at Chelsea, Ben spent nearly four years at Redmandarin, the strategic sponsorship consultancy. Follow Ben on Twitter @ben_wells1 or get in touch via ben.wells@ishtarconsulting.com. This blog appears regularly at http://benwells1.blogspot.com.

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