A furore embroiling AFL player manager, Ricky Nixon, highlights the power of social media and its potential impact from the malicious spread of images and words over the internet. The Story

In December last year, a then-16-year-old girl made public claims of obtaining nude photos of high profile players from the St Kilda Football Club. She subsequently uploaded the images onto her Facebook profile and they quickly went viral.

The girl threatened to release more damaging photos, and St Kilda went into damage control. In January 2011, as part of a settlement with the girl, the Club announced on its website that it had agreed to pay for hotel accommodation for the girl over several months, to assist the girl “in order for her to gain stability back into her life."

While this was aimed at mitigating the damage to the Club‘s brand, in February, the girl, now 17, made fresh claims that Mr Nixon had had ‘inappropriate dealings’ of a sexual nature with her in the hotel room.  Although he denies this claim, he admitted to supplying the teenager with alcohol.  He also reportedly said that he didn’t “know why she’s saying these things … she reports on Twitter that she’s out to get me."

The governing body for the ethics and behaviour of AFL player managers - the AFL Players Association - will decide whether to investigate the claims, determine if there has been any breach of Nixon's accreditation conditions and whether any disciplinary actions are required.

At the time of printing, Nixon had checked himself into a rehabilitation centre for "a substance problem", after temporarily escaping the media frenzy by travelling overseas.

Brand Risk

Regardless of the legitimacy of any of the claims and counter claims in this case, the potential for widespread brand damage, Nixon, the players he represents and arguably the AFL is enormous. The ease with which images or negative comments can be widely communicated to the public demonstrates the risks that an individual can create through social media.

Other examples include:

  • A November end of season trip to Hong Kong for Western Bulldogs AFL players where video footage showed the late night antics of intoxicated players ‘behaving badly.’  The images of the incident were uploaded onto YouTube and, at the time of the release of this article, more than 50,000 individual users had viewed the video.  It demonstrates that regardless of where in the world compromising incidents occur, there is often no escaping the damaging impact if the actions are recorded and published on the web.
  • At the end of the Canberra Raiders 2010 season, Rugby league player Joel Monaghan was photographed simulating a sexual act with a dog. The photo was published on Twitter and quickly spread. The reputational damage was so significant for the player and his club that Monaghan was granted a release on his contract to continue his career overseas.

Be Prepared

With almost every mobile phone now carrying a video camera with immediate access to the internet, the message for all people and organisations with a brand is clear:  take care in a social setting when actions may be recorded, and prepare a crisis management plan that includes a strategy for online reputation management.