Patrick Nally, who helped market the first IAAF World Championships, has criticised the organisation’s current marketing strategy after Adidas reportedly withdraws
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is damaged goods and needs to “get its act together” if it is to recover from the reputational damage done by the recent doping scandals, according to the “founding father” of sports marketing, Patrick Nally.
After months of allegations and detailed reports into corruption at the IAAF and various individuals’ involvement in the cover-up and extortion of positive drugs tests of Russian athletes, the organisation is now facing up to more damage to its image after the BBC reported that one of its main sponsors, Adidas, was preparing to cut short an 11-year, multi-million pound partnership.
The financial burden is expected to fall on the shoulders of the IAAF’s marketing partner, Dentsu, with whom former president Lamine Diack signed a 15-year extension to their long-term partnership in 2014, handing over exclusive rights to all the IAAF’s marketing and sponsorship deals to the Japanese firm in return for a sum believed to be in the region of £200million over the course of the deal.
However, the symbolism of the IAAF losing one of its flagship sponsors has the potential to inflict further damage to its reputation and Nally, the man responsible for securing FIFA’s original partnership with Coca-Cola as well as securing funding, sponsors and television coverage for the first IAAF World Championships in 1983, says the organisation must adopt a new approach to building a new brand, describing its approach as “old-fashioned”.
He said: “My own view has always been that it’s the old-fashioned way. Although it might give the IAAF some financial security it doesn’t give the IAAF the security that it really needs which is marketing its own product.
“The whole image has suffered unbelievably. It all needs to be cleaned up and basically there needs to be a new approach to it because it will be extremely difficult to carry on where you left off.
“You need to really come up with a completely new way, new approach, new structure, new everything to be attractive again. Certainly at this present moment in time athletics wouldn’t in any way be perceived to be attractive.”
While the deal with Dentsu offers a certain level of financial security to the IAAF, it also limits the amount of direct control the federation has in the way the sport is presented.
In Seb Coe’s presidential election manifesto, the double Olympic champion highlighted the need for the organisation to create an internal marketing team in order to help maximise the sport’s potential marketability; a change Nally believes is necessary if the IAAF is to reconcile with the stakeholders affected by the negative publicity it has received over the past year.
Nally said: “They’ve abrogated their responsibility in how to market their sport to a third-party advertising agency whose motivations may be entirely different. My view is that new athletics, whatever it’s going to be, needs to be in control of its own destiny. It needs to package itself in a way that makes it attractive.
“There’s currently no personal obligation of athletics to control its own image, its own destiny, its own packaging. We know they’ve got to change.
“They’ve got to go through a truth and reconciliation, and now is the time for the IAAF to actually control its own destiny, control its own image and re-package itself in the way that it’s very believable and attractive. Now is the time to get its act together.”