Crisis Management

Branding Lessons from the World Cup Bite

30 Jun , 2014  

There has been a lot of drama, excitement and controversy in Brazil over the past few weeks. Unfortunately for FIFA, Uruguay striker Luis Suarez has gotten a good part of the attention.

In Uruguay’s match with Italy, Suarez leaned over and bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder. It was a remarkable move.

It was not a smart decision by Suarez; people around the world condemned his action. It was also not a great moment for the World Cup. Football is supposed to be an elegant game. The idea that a player would attack another player is completely inconsistent with image of the sport.

 

Learning point #1:

When you are the center of attention, you should be on your best behavior.

 

Suarez then made a rather strange choice; he decided to deny the allegations. He explained that the incident was an accident. According to Suarez, “I hit my face against the player leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth.”

This was not a smart move, either. The video is quite clear. Suarez attacked Chiellini. There was nothing accidental about it. The apology did not go over well.

 

Learning point #2:

Don’t try to deny something when you are clearly guilty.

 

FIFA responded to the incident with a harsh penalty, banning Suarez from soccer for four months and from nine Uruguay games. .

President Jose Muijca of Uruguay then decided to defend Suarez. He proclaimed that the punishment was outrageous, called it an “aggression, not just for a man but also for a country.” He went on about the punishment, “It will be an eternal shame in the history of World Cups.”

This was yet another poor decision. Defending a soccer player who bites someone is not a smart thing to do.

 

Learning Point #3:

Distance yourself from troubled brands, don’t endorse them.

 

Today, Suarez issued a formal if half-hearted apology, noting “I vow to the public that there will never again be another incident.” He explained the move, noting “After several days of being home with my family, I have had the opportunity to regain my calm and reflect about the reality of what occurred during the Italy-Uruguay match.”

In other words, it took him a few days and a four-month suspension to realize that he shouldn’t have bitten another player.

 

Learning Point #4:

Apologize quickly.

 

When you do something wrong, promptly say you are sorry. People are forgiving. Great brands understand this; they are quick to respond. If you wait, the apology loses its impact.

The one person who has helped his brand is the victim, Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. He issued a statement calling for a lighter penalty and said the incident was “all forgotten.”

Suarez, Uruguay and the World Cup all wish that was the case.


4 Responses

  1. Peter Kuestermann says:

    Agree with your lessons, but what would be the lesson behind the news that Barcelona confirmed the hiring of Suarez just 4 days ago with a contract exceeding 70MM Euros?

    Regards-

    • Tim Calkins says:

      Peter—An amazing contract. I think the lesson from that is I should have focused on playing soccer.

      For athletes, it is incredibly important to be successful on the field. That drives contacts. Building a positive brand is also important, however, since that is what lasts after retirement.

  2. Alain Weber says:

    Lesson #5: no matter what don’t bite!

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