Adidas has terminated its boot contract with Adam Johnson. The German sportswear manufacturer reacted quickly after the Sunderland midfielder pleaded guilty to one count of sexual activity with a child and one of grooming in an ongoing case at Bradford crown court.
The Black Cats winger admitted he kissed a 15-year-old girl after grooming her over the internet but Johnson has denied two further charges of sexual activity. In a statement, the brand famous for its three stripes said:
“Adidas can confirm that it has terminated its contract with footballer Adam Johnson with immediate effect. This follows his guilty pleas entered earlier this week.”
Johnson is not the first athlete to land themselves in hot water with sponsors; Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong lost many of their headline sponsors following the former’s infidelity and the latter’s doping indiscretions. The actions of Nicolas Anelka and the now infamous ‘quenelle’ goal celebration saw Zoopla end their sponsorship of West Browich Albion. So what can sponsors do to shield their brand against the unwanted actions of the players they sponsor?
Most sponsors attempt to proactively protect themselves from foreseeable breaches of ‘Morality’ by having their legal advisors draft specific clauses into their sponsorship agreements with an athlete. ‘Disrepute’ or ‘Morality’ clauses are brought into play by a triggering event which brings the individual, club and / or sponsor into disrepute, or if an athlete’s behaviour falls below expected levels of morality.
Coca-Cola had the foresight to construct such a clause under which Lance Armstrong provided contractual warranties assuring Coca-Cola that he was free from performance-enhancing drugs. When the US Anti-Doping Agency announced that Armstrong had led “The most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme sport has ever seen”, Coca-Cola were able to terminate their deal with the 7-times Tour de France winner without recourse to Litigation. In contrast the insurance company SCA Promotions are locked in a legal dispute with Armstrong’s legal team in an effort to recoup $12m in bonuses which the firm paid out for his wins between 2002-2004.
Adidas will have received greater publicity (arguably unwarranted) from the Johnson incident but the question Adidas will ask themselves is, what is the public’s perception of their brand in light of the actions of the player? The racism allegations and biting incidents of Luis Suarez called into question whether sponsors should terminate their deals with the Barcelona striker but many of the Uruguayan’s sponsors (including Adidas) stuck by the player and all seems forgotten following the impressive on-field performances of the striker. Sponsors may perceive if they stick by an individual through the bad times and they turn themselves around that will have more value with the public. The story of David Beckham is living proof. Many sponsors would have questioned their association with the midfielder following his red card in the France ’98 world cup but who would not want to be partnered with the global phenomenon of brand Beckham 16 years on? The contrast and perhaps more comparable case is that of the much publicised incident of Jessica Ennis-Hill demanding that her name be removed from a stand at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane if convicted rapist Ched Evans was offered a new contract by the Blades.
Johnson now joins a growing list of professional footballers who have seen their contracts terminated for criminal offences.