In April this year, Australian swimming legend Grant Hackett was allegedly intoxicated at Channel Nine’s Logie Awards after party, and asked to leave after causing a ‘ruckus’ during the ceremony. According to the Daily Telegraph, bouncers at the Crown Casino’s Club 23 told the former Olympic swimmer to ‘call it a night’ when he was seen ‘sweaty’ and ‘struggling to form a sentence’. This followed an incident in October last year where police were called to Hackett’s Southbank home to attend what was reported as a domestic dispute between Grant and ex-wife Candice Alley. It was reported in the Telegraph that the dispute arose when Hackett returned home from Derby Day in Melbourne in an alcohol-fuelled state. Photos of the apartment were released this month revealing overturned furniture (including Alley’s grand piano) smashed glass and holes punched into walls.
Anti-violence charity, the Alannah and Madeline Foundation has since let go of Hackett as an ambassador. Major sponsor Uncle Tobys is also, according to the Herald Sun, reviewing its ties with the former athlete. Uncle Tobys has been in a sponsorship arrangement with Hackett for the past 13 years, beginning in the lead up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics. It has been a lucrative deal for Hackett who has featured in dozens of print and television campaigns for the brand.
A spokeswoman for Uncle Tobys told the Herald Sun:
“We will not make any decision based on media speculation...Grant has not been charged. Until we know the full circumstances, we will defer our judgment and continue to support Grant in recognition of our long-standing relationship."
The Herald Sun reported that other sponsors such as Channel Nine are taking the same approach however Westpac have announced that Grant Hackett will no longer receive their support.
Corporate sponsorship comes with significant reputational risks. It is important for a company like Uncle Tobys to maintain strong brand values and a positive image through its association with celebrity ambassadors. Poor behaviour of high profile media figures can distract the consumers focus away from the positive brand personality traits that the sponsorship is designed to leverage, and can result in brand erosion of the sponsor. In an Olympic year where the public’s focus will very much be on our sporting legends, swift action is needed by sponsors to mitigate this risk.
Grant Hackett was due to fly to London shortly to commentate on the 2012 London Olympic Games.