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Djokovic coaches sponsors in Australian Open vax uproar

A lot of people are angry with Novak Djokovic. And his sponsors can just wait.

The world’s highest ranked male tennis player is the top seed and defending Australian Open champion. But it is unclear whether he will be able to compete on Monday after Australian authorities revoked his visa again because he does not have a COVID-19 vaccine, leaving his lawyers to appeal his possible deportation.

The Serb, known for his gluten-free diet and his use of hyperbaric chambers, is not giving up the fight to win 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 is no indication that Djokovic’s sponsors, including French automaker Peugeot, clothing brand Lacoste and Swiss watchmaker Hublot, are considering dropping him.

According to Forbes, he has sponsorship deals worth $ 30 million, which makes 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 from injuries.

Federer’s impeccable image, underscored by his calm demeanor on the pitch, has earned him near-universal adoration from fans and officials alike. Djokovic, meanwhile, has his head-to-head moments like smashing his racquet and facing off against referees, which some brands can play is a hit with fans.

There is a limit, however, and one thing sponsors need to determine is whether an athlete has acted unlawfully or immorally if they are to try to use an exit clause for bad behavior in a contract, Tim said. Crow, UK sports marketing consultant.

In Djokovic’s case, “it’s pretty nuanced,” Crow said.

If he is allowed to play and wins, there will be even less pressure for the sponsors to act.

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

Evaluating the public relations aspect is complex. The opinion of fans around Djokovic is polarized. He is a national hero in his native Serbia. The Australians have mostly turned on him, but the rest of the world is more divided, Crow said. If it were backed by large healthcare companies, they might have different reactions from a consumer product company like a watch or auto brand. And the COVID-19 vaccines are themselves a source of division.

What happened to Aaron Rodgers, the footballer who contracted COVID-19 in November after misleading the NFL about his vaccine status, illustrates how different companies conduct assessments based on their brand values. He was abandoned by a local health care company. But a major funder, insurer State Farm, increased its advertising spots after briefly cutting back, according to an analysis by Apex Marketing Group.

Some of Djokovic’s sponsors have tried to distance themselves from the situation and others, including Peugeot and Lacoste, have declined requests for comment. But there was no sign of any intention 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 in tennis. “

Austrian bank Raffeissen said their decision to sign Djokovic into a multi-year partnership was taken long before the recent Australian Open titles.

“As a sponsor of Novak Djokovic, we are watching the current situation closely,” the bank said.

Sports fans rationalize the behavior of athletes if they are admirers – up to a point. It is riskier if a transgression is linked to the actual performance of the sport, such as in a doping scandal, or if it is a criminal act so egregious that people all agree it is wrong, a said Americus Reed, professor of marketing at the University’s Wharton School. from Pennsylvania.

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

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

Sponsors have made deals in the past because of performance drugs and criminal acts.

Nike, bike maker Trek and brewer Budweiser Anheuser-Busch ditched cyclist Lance Armstrong in 2012 amid the fallout from his doping scandal. After tennis star Maria Sharapova failed a drug test in 2016, sponsors like Porsche, Nike and Swiss watch brand Tag Heuer abandoned her.

Two of South African Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius’ main sponsors, Nike and eyewear maker Oakley, have distanced themselves after being indicted in 2013 for the shooting death of his girlfriend.

For Djokovic, there may not be any more sponsorship deals being dissolved, said Mumcu, the professor. But that can become a problem later.

“In the long run, if it 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.


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