Red Card for AFL’s Royal Brunei Deal

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red cardIn July, AFL Europe announced their largest ever sponsorship deal – a deal with Royal Brunei Airlines.   Far from being the coup initially touted by the organisation, the deal has significant ramifications for AFL’s culture and position.

In a classic case of one-step-forward-ten-steps-back, the deal aligns the AFL with the Sultan of Brunei – a leader who is introducing strict new Sharia Laws that impose the death penalty by stoning for homosexual acts and adultery.

The alignment of brands can certainly correct, enhance or change a brand’s reputation; however, the alignment must be investigated thoroughly and deeply.  What might seem like a perfect brand solution could in fact open a much deeper cavern of negative perception if not managed correctly.   Everything surrounding the brands must line up – digging below the brand veneer to investigate the individuals’ personality and belief systems.  So while the deal between AFL Europe and Royal Brunei Airlines looks like a marriage made in heaven, it clearly didn’t undergo rigorous due diligence.

Why Sharia Law is a problem for AFL

Over the past decade no football code has escaped their share of homophobic and misogynistic scandals, and this is something that is being taken very seriously at a board level.  The AFL has invested significant time, money and effort in rebuilding their Position – the core values and culture that make up their brand.  Indeed, it was only two months ago that AFL united with other sporting bodies to fight homophobia in sport.

This deal is not just an embarrassment for AFL Europe, it is also a massive blow to the work that the whole code has done on its culture and position.  The AFL acknowledged this in their statement:

“AFL Europe entered into the sponsorship agreement with Royal Brunei Airlines in good faith, unaware of concerns outside the sporting arena about the Brunei government’s adoption in April this year of harsh and discriminatory cultural laws. These laws are counter to everything the AFL stands for in regards to inclusion and diversity.”

While the organization is attempting to distance itself from the Sultan of Brunei, it still has not taken steps to dismantle the deal.  This failure to act runs the risk of inflicting further damage to their already fragile culture of inclusion and diversity.  It also raises questions about if the AFL is actually living their values, or if they are simply words on paper.

Position is the foundation of all revenue generating activity.  Get this right and everything else falls into place more easily.  So whether it is a case of AFL Europe being blinded by the almighty dollar, or simply not conducting enough due diligence when brokering sponsorship deals, the arrangement with Royal Brunei demonstrates that the organisation still needs to commit to broad cultural change.

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