When a Manly Sea Eagles player was caught drink-driving in April, the club tried a new approach to punishment - a big fine but no playing suspension. In a stinging attack on winger Tony Williams on Sky Sports Radio, Manly boss Graham Lowe suggested that many players love money more than playing football, and using fines, in this case $15,000 - or 10% of Williams' annual contract - would prevent poor player behaviour more than the typical playing suspensions.
Lowe made a point to demonstrate what a tough stance the club was taking, showing no sympathy about the fact that Williams would have to commute from Liverpool to Narrabeen without a driver's license. He said, "My suggestion was he get a skateboard, because I couldn't care less...He's still got to be at training, that's his problem."
The sports industry has been littered with instances of sponsors dropping clients for off-field indiscretions. The most recent high-profile instance is Tiger Woods, who has been dumped by many of his major sponsors after revelations of his affairs.
In rugby league, the situation is similar. The Bulldogs have struggled with sponsorship since the salary-cap incident, and the Newcastle Knights had their major sponsors reconsider their financial arrangements after two of their players were arrested for alleged drugs offences. Allan Langer, a former Brisbane Broncos player, and current member of the coaching staff, was recently charged with drink-driving, and had his sponsorship deal with XXXX Beer torn up.
These are all examples of brands being tarnished, and stakeholders no longer wanting to be associated with a negative perception of the club or individual. This highlights the necessity to protect against brand risk.
By taking such a hard-line against Williams, Manly might have been attempting to minimise damage to the club brand, to show sponsors that the Manly brand is still one with positive core values.