A public event in Melbourne that was scheduled as part of this year’s art exhibition, ‘Biennale of Sydney,’ was cancelled following concerns over a possible protest threat at the venue against the organisation’s ties to Transfield Holdings.  Transfield is a supplier of operations and construction services to the Australian detention centres at Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and in Nauru. As reported by Fairfax, upon receiving information that a demonstration involving “mass action” was set to occur on the night of the event, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art decided to postpone the event due to public safety concerns. While Transfield has been a founding partner of the event since 1973, it has come under closer media attention with news of its recent securing of a 20-month contract to provide services at the immigration detention centres. Close to half of the ninety artists involved with Biennale have signed a letter to the Biennale Board expressing the desire to have the event organiser “cut their ties” with Transfield, citing the provision of garrison services to an “unethical” detention centre that is in breach of “basic human rights” as unacceptable.

The Biennale Board, of whom Transfield Holdings’ executive director is Chairman, issued a response to the letter that emphasised their loyalty to the company, and their decision to maintain their relationship with Transfield due to the “ambiguity” of the claims against the sponsorship.

Sponsorship agreements can sometimes carry an image and reputational risk to both parties where adverse media attention attracted by one can have an impact upon the other.  Take for example the infamous car crash involving Tiger Woods in 2009 that was the turning point in his career, his home life and his financial position.

Before ‘the crash,’ Tiger was reported to have been earning around US$100m+/year in endorsements.  Following the crash in November of that year he retained an estimated US$40m sponsorship with Nike but lost sponsorships with Accenture, Gillette, Gatorade, while the Tag Heuer sponsorship was significantly reduced.  A University of California study found that on the US stock exchange, over the 13 trading days following the crash, a 2.3% or about US$12b fell from the share value of these sponsors.  Clearly sponsorship has its risks, but also its rewards.