Fail to prepare, prepare to fail…

Group of men and women cheering their national team. Football team supporters enjoying during watching a live match from stadium.

Sports events are more high profile than ever before. The surging popularity of women’s sport is driving audience numbers ever higher with women’s sport viewing up 131% in 2022. 2023 is a bumper year for massive sporting events from the Women’s World Cup and the men’s and women’s Ashes to the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup and men’s Rugby World Cup.

These sporting occasions are some of the few things that we still watch live in large groups. They bring us together but can also divide us. Hot (or freezing cold) takes are everywhere from the commentary box at Wimbledon to impassioned comments below match reports in your favourite newspaper.

This level of attention and engagement provides fertile ground for companies. Massive audiences and participation mean that corporations understandably want to be associated with these events to help support their corporate narrative. But these events aren’t always straightforward.

Last year’s furore over Russian and Belarussian players at Wimbledon showed how difficult it can be for tournaments and events to navigate these types of issues. It is equally easy for organisations to get sponsorship, partnership or participation wrong.

Having a point of view or supporting a stance is straightforward when everything is going well. But what happens when things start to go awry? Companies need to be prepared to respond quickly to criticism in such a cauldron of public opinion. They need to be able to quickly decide on the correct course of action – are they standing alongside in solidarity or do they recognise they got this one wrong and want to say they’re sorry?

It is hard to construct a position on the hop, these are often complex issues that need to be calmly considered away from the glare of media and a demanding public. It’s vital to consider your values as an organisation before you embark on this process to ensure they’re aligned with the organisation / team / event you’re publicly supporting.

Developing messaging ahead of time with a clear escalation process and a response protocol is the best way of managing reputation during a high-profile event. This should also include scenario planning and stress testing to make sure public positions can withstand scrutiny and pressure in a number of different circumstances.

Ideally, this work would take place a long time in advance. It takes time to get the facts right, be sure of your audiences and understand what you’re trying to achieve if something goes wrong. However, it is never too late.

James Dann, Account Director, Crisis & Issues at FleishmanHillard London.

If you are interested in crisis response or preparedness please contact [email protected].