Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods were in scandal recently but their fans and sponsors like Nike quickly dropped former road racing cyclist Armstrong but remained loyal to golfer Woods.
The reason is probably Armstrong’s doping scandal took place on the field violating business ethics unlike Wood’s off-the-field extra-marital affair, rather a personal one, shows a recent study.
According to Joon Sung Lee of University of Michigan, when fans can separate an athlete’s immoral behaviour from his or her performance, they are much more forgiving than if the bad behaviour could impact athletic performance and the outcome of the game.
“The latter happened with Armstrong’s doping scandal which fans viewed as performance-related, a reasoning strategy called moral coupling,” added Dae Hee Kwak, co-investigator and assistant professor.
Armstrong, who was stripped of seven Tour de France titles, suffered tremendously after his doping scandal and his sponsor Nike eventually dropped him. The opposite happened with Woods, whose personal life did not bring in punitive action.
The transgression was not performance-related and fans could more easily separate Woods’ extramarital affairs from his athletic performance, the researchers said pointing out the fact that they rationalised the behaviour or deemed it irrelevant to the game, called “moral decoupling”.
Woods’ career did not suffer nearly as much and Nike continued its sponsorship and even developed ads to help Woods resuscitate his image after he faced scandal over his marital ties.
Giving out the valuable information for sponsors and marketers, researchers said sponsors can monitor how consumers view the transgression.
“They could look at social media and also conduct surveys or focus groups to see if consumers tend to separate or integrate judgments of performance and morality,” Kwak emphasised.
Based on their target consumers’ views, marketers can decide whether to continue sponsoring the athletes who are found to be in trouble, said researchers. The study has been published in the Journal of Business Ethics.