Djokovic entangles sponsors in Australian Open tumult

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Many people are angry with Novak Djokovic. And his sponsors can just wait.

The highest-ranked male tennis player in the world is the top seed and defending Australian Open champion. But it is unclear whether he can compete on Monday after Australian authorities again revoked his visa because he lacks a COVID-19 vaccine, leaving his lawyers to appeal his possible deportation.

The Serb, known for his gluten-free diet and the use of hyperbaric chambers, is not giving up the fight to aim for his 21st Grand Slam. This is his chance to overtake Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the men’s record holder – and every brand loves a winner.

So far, there has been no indication that Djokovic’s sponsors, including French carmaker Peugeot, clothing brand Lacoste and Swiss watchmaker Hublot, are considering dropping him. He has $30 million in endorsement deals, according to Forbes, making him one of the highest-paid athletes in the world. Yet he never had the broad appeal of Federer, who triples the amount of endorsements despite losing his No. 1 crown years ago and being sidelined with injury.

Federer’s impeccable image, underscored by his calm demeanor on the pitch, has won him near-universal adoration from fans and officials alike. Djokovic, meanwhile, has his brash moments like breaking his racquet and clashing with refs, which some brands can bet will be a hit with fans.

There is a line though, and one thing sponsors need to determine is whether an athlete has acted illegally or immorally if they want to try and use a bad behavior release clause in a contract, said consultant Tim Crow. British in sports marketing.

In Djokovic’s case, “it’s quite nuanced,” Crow said. If he is cleared to play and wins, there will be even less pressure for sponsors to act.

“He will be labeled as the most successful male player of all time, and I think that provides a reason for sponsors to be more willing to take that risk and stick with the athlete,” said Ceyda Mumcu, professor in sports management at the University of New Haven.

The evaluation of the public relations aspect is complex. Fan opinion around Djokovic is polarized. He is a national hero in his native Serbia. Australians have mostly turned on him, but the rest of the world is more divided, Crow said. If he had big healthcare companies as backers, they might have different reactions than a consumer products company like a watch or an automobile brand. And COVID-19 vaccines are themselves divisive. What happened to Aaron Rodgers, the football player who contracted COVID-19 in November after misleading the NFL about his vaccine status, illustrates how different companies assess their brand values. He was dropped by a local healthcare company. But a major backer, insurer State Farm, increased its advertising spots after a brief cut, according to analysis by Apex Marketing Group.

Some of Djokovic’s sponsors tried to distance themselves from the situation and others, including Peugeot and Lacoste, declined requests for comment. But there was no indication that it was planned to cut ties. “Novak Djokovic is his own person,” said Swiss watch brand Hublot. ”We cannot comment on any of his personal decisions. Hublot will continue its partnership with the world number 1 tennis player. ”Austrian bank Raffeissen says its decision to sign Djokovic for a multi-year partnership was made long before the recent Australian Open titles.

“As Novak Djokovic’s sponsor, we are closely watching the current situation,” the bank said. Sports fans rationalize the behavior of athletes if they are fans – up to a point. It’s more risky if a transgression is tied to actual sport performance, like in a doping scandal, or if it’s such a blatant criminal act that people all agree it’s wrong, a said Americus Reed, professor of marketing at the University’s Wharton School. of Pennsylvania.

Being against COVID-19 vaccines, or lying on papers, in our polarized world, may not rise to the level of voiding an athlete’s contract for bad behavior. Millions of people around the world refuse to get vaccinated, despite assurances from public health authorities that they are safe and effective.

Still, “if you lose enough fans, you’ll lose sponsors,” said Nicole Melton, professor of sports management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Sponsors have made deals in the past due to performance drugs and foul play. Nike, bicycle manufacturer Trek and Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch dropped cyclist Lance Armstrong in 2012 as part of the fallout from his doping scandal. After tennis star Maria Sharapova failed a drug test in 2016, sponsors such as Porsche, Nike and Swiss watch brand Tag Heuer dropped her. Two of South African Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius’ main sponsors, Nike and eyewear maker Oakley, have distanced themselves after he was accused in 2013 of the shooting death of his girlfriend. For Djokovic, no sponsor deal may dissolve now, said Mumcu, the professor. But that can become a problem later.

“Long term, if he becomes the public face of the anti-vaccination movement, I think that’s problematic,” she said.

Even so, she notes that athletic performance remains the ultimate draw.

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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