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July 17 – While news swirl around the world that six top athletes have tested positive for banned substances, the sponsor-athlete relationship is coming into question. One shoe & apparel company has suspended its relationship with its athlete, while one other is “waiting to see”. 

In light of these revelations though, what should the sponsor do? And in going forward, how much more can the sponsor do to help to prevent events which may turn out to be a negative impact on their association? Image

One could argue, who is a sponsor? In this case it is a company and/or an individual who invests in an athlete to promote goods and services aimed at both achieving mutually beneficial bottom line. That is what existed. However more and more sport is becoming competitive on and off the field of play and by extension the competition for air time, column spaces, presence on social media along with personal appearances are proving to be so much more demanding of the athlete. The athlete is therefore faced with the dilemma of earning $$$ and balancing the work that is obviously required to balance this relationship. 

A most recent example of sponsor-athlete relationship was the Tiger Woods and Nike arrangement. Following the news of Tiger’s indiscretions, Nike was one of the few, or maybe the only sponsor who stood by him and today, the Tiger is back at #1 and see a story which highlights some new plans 


Nike has even bought back into Woods who according to is the highest paid athlete in the World – using the perfect quote from Woods at its YouTube page description: “I treat golf as a sport. I let other people treat it like a hobby.”


Sponsors should never ever see themselves as simply the ones to write a cheque – there is so much more to that relationship. So here is my suggestion – replace the term with business partner or investor. Which means there is more to the relationship. Once the agreement has been signed 

  • look at the gaps and work on developing them 
  • embrace the personality of the athlete and strike the balance 
  • Build the programme in keeping with the Corporate Values of excellence, reliability, accountability, respect etc
  • Treat the person as an employee who is valuable to the company 

One of the things we have paid little attention to is the gaps….we have become scared to confront the weaknesses. The strength in that is being able to communicate the effort to apply the corrective measures for a better product. 

We can identify the common weaknesses 

  • inability to speak clearly and effectively 
  • inability to dress appropriately
  • controlling the off-season behaviour 
  • ….among other areas

Once we are honest with those factors then we are on the road to a great partnership. Some words of advice, due diligence is always required in every business or personal choice you make; checks and balances make for a healthy relationship. Don’t be fooled into thinking that what you see on the outside is all that comes from the inside, people will put on facades to tip the scale. 

The sponsor-athlete relationship is a two-way relationship and should be handled with care, but should have the support of integrity, respect and commitment as common ground. 



A sport aficionado who writes, researches and presents on everything sport. A second book is out to prove her work's reach. She reads in her spare time.

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