Off the Wall

Neither the Roosters, nor the NRL, should be downplaying the significance of the decision by Samsung to end its six year major sponsorship agreement with the Roosters.

The simple fact is that the off field behaviour record of the Roosters - now arguably the worst of any NRL club - played a key part in Samsung's decision.

There may have been other factors involved as the Roosters CEO claimed, but I worry that some clubs, and even some in the NRL hierarchy, are simply just not getting the message - it is the attitude of sponsors to bad publicity arising from off field issues that is one of the biggest challenges facing the game.

The NRL publicity machine has been rightly churning out good news about television ratings and attendances, but the news is not so good when it comes to sponsorship, and corporate box sales.

There is no doubt both sponsorship and corporate box sales have been hit hard by the economic downturn. But it would be foolish to pretend that tougher economic times alone are the cause.

The Roosters this year have had the worst off field record of any club - and the worst on field record as well.

Samsung is a widely respected company - its sales are in areas like mobile phones, television sets and other appliances. It has a strong consumer focus, and a good record of community service. It has been the Roosters major sponsor for six years.

The Roosters stand to lose close to a million dollars a year. Despite the clubs protestations, replacing that is not going to be easy.

The problem for the NRL is that while the game is doing well in key areas such as television ratings, and attendances, sponsorship for the game, and for NRL clubs, is becoming increasingly difficult.

And even successful clubs - such as the Broncos which have the significant advantage of being the only team in a major capital city - found this season that corporate box and corporate hospitality revenue was down significantly.

There is no guarantee the downturn won't continue into the 2010 season.

Economic conditions may be improving, but for many businesses corporate hospitality and sponsorship remains a low priority area.

Today a leading sponsorship consultant, Kim Skildum-Reid, sends a clear warning to every NRL club about the impact of off field behaviour on sponsorship. And she rightly focuses on the need to get the message across to players as well.

Sometime in the next year or so the NRL will begin negotiations in earnest on post 2012 television rights for the NRL premiership and Origin and Test matches. The television industry will look at more than just ratings - it will look at the public image and standing of the game AND the attitude of sponsors who will form the basis of its advertisers.

As Ms Skildum-Reid said, players need to be told in no uncertain terms that their off field behaviour impacts on the games profitability - and on what the clubs can afford to pay them.

I don't think that message has been made loud and clear to players. It needs to be.

The game prepares for the 2010 season in better shape than most of us, myself included, has expected. But this has been an atrocious year for bad publicity resulting from players behaving badly.

The Roosters are not alone in being under pressure from sponsors. Players need to understand their incomes are under pressure as well!