Topical hacking

Let’s roll back a week when everything was rosy in the English garden – well, at least in terms of football. The nation was on a high as a victory over Denmark in the European Championships Semi-Final would see the country take on Italy for the right to be proclaimed Champion of Europe. Talk was of trying to find tickets and replica shirts, both as rare as an England appearance in the final itself.

With little chance of finding a current replica shirt, unless you were a politician where it seemed you only had to stand in front of a camera to get a “box fresh” one, complete with creases, fans looked at the next best thing and went retro. Like any sporting side, there have been a fair few terrible kit designs over the years mixed in with a few design classics. Thankfully, most of the latter (and some of the former), have been produced again and sold through websites over the last few years. In fact, the retro sporting shirt market is probably as strong today as it ever has been, with many fans shunning the incredibly expensive new shirts and preferring the bygone day look.

One company that has been providing this retro shirts for many years is Classic Football Shirts. They offer a fantastic range of replica shirts (over 30,000 different shirts), at decent prices and are an example of a small business that has found its niche and become quite big (remember my adage of “Get Big, Get Niche or Get Out”? Here’s an example of how being niche can lead to growing big). With the whole nation becoming gripped with football fever, what better time to buy a retro shirt?

Sensing the demand out there, as if by magic emails started appearing in inboxes from the company offering a 15% cash back on previous orders to customers – what a fantastic gesture. Except it wasn’t from Classic Football Shirts. The emails looked like they were but there were some tell-tale signs that it wasn’t from them. The emails were phishing attempts, looking to cash in on the football euphoria and a short supply of the replica England shirts.

The email address it came from had an extra “s” in – classicsfootballshirts.co.uk – a domain name registered on the 25th June and at first glance doesn’t raise any red flags. The email itself contained poor grammar that should have been a warning sign for a scam but many customers, not based in the UK or who may not be fluent in English, it was an offer too good to miss. All they needed to do was click on a link in the email and complete the form to get their 15% cash back.

The firm reacted quickly when it became aware of the issue (within 30 minutes of emails being received by customers), promising an immediate investigation. They took the correct course of action in contacting the authorities and informing customers of the situation. What is clear is this was a very deliberate and targeted attack, with the fraudsters taking advantage of the footballing euphoria in the country. The domain name still appears to be registered although any website attached to it has been removed.

Whilst there are still ongoing investigations on the source of the attack and what data was used by the scammers, it is a timely reminder to all of us about taking a moment to check any similar offers that appear to be too good to be true. In this case, asking yourself why the company would simply be giving free money away, rather than discounting future orders for instance? It doesn’t matter how small or big an organisation is – one of their core objectives is to make money and giving it away is contrary to that strategy.

A week on and we are all footballed out. The bunting has come down, the wallcharts put away and those little flags you attach to the windows in your car lay discarded on roads up and down the country. Security incidents like this remind us that no firms are safe from the eyes of the fraudsters and that we, as consumers, need to be cautious about any too good to be true offers we receive. In doing so we all become part of the solution rather than the growing problem of online fraud.

Bottling it – how one simple action can damage a brand

There is no doubt that global sports stars carry significant weight when it comes to which products they do and don’t engage with or endorse. Some of the image rights deals, which include brand endorsements, are often worth more than their contractual relationships to play the sports. But what happens if a player’s actions damage a brand?

There have been plenty of stories over the years of sports stars behaving badly and bringing not only themselves, but their employers and their sponsors into disrepute. The damage to a brand’s value by being associated with such instances of bad behaviour can be immediate and tarnish their reputation for significant periods of time afterwards. Likewise, there are instances of seemingly normal actions that have negative consequences for rights holders.

The problem can quickly spread if action isn’t taken as we have seen in the last week during the European Football Championships. The commercial partners for the tournament pay huge sums of money to be associated with the governing body, UEFA, but also with the players in the tournament. Whilst there will be exclusive “assets” that they get, such as VIP tickets and hospitality, the main benefit the commercial partners get is that through brand exposure to a global audience of hundreds of millions football fans. Gone are the days when relatively local brands, or even regional ones would be the main sponsors – one look at the commercial partners for Euro2020 reveals Qatar Airways, Alipay, Antchain and Gazprom – not necessarily household names across Europe or suppliers of products and services that would be targeted at the tournament team supporters. But the traditional global brands such as Coca-Cola and Heineken are there too, as they are for most major tournaments.

However, Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba, undoubtedly two of the biggest (and most expensive based on transfer fees paid) stars of the tournament have inadvertently caused a bit of a sponsorship debate about who holds the power. After Portugal’s victory against Hungary last week, Ronaldo appeared at the press conference and immediately removed the bottle of Coca-Cola from in front of the microphone and replaced them with a bottle of water. Pogba, in a similar move, removed the bottle of Heineken. Whilst their motives may have been genuine (Ronaldo is a health and fitness machine, Pogba a devote muslim), the consequences of their actions resulted in brand damage for Coca-Cola and Heineken respectively, with the former seeing a drop in their share price that reduced the value of the company by over £2 billion. It is very hard to pin that single action to the market valuation as other factors contribute to share price movements but there will have been some impact. On the flip side, a number of other players, seeing an opportunity have moved the bottles into more prominent positions during their interviews, perhaps trying to encourage the sponsors to endorse them.

There have been other high profile guerilla-style brand issues in football through the years – back in the 1974 World Cup, with adidas sponsoring the Netherlands team, their star player Johann Cruyff was endorsed by bitter rivals Puma. Rather than face punitive measures by wearing Puma, Cruyff removed one of the adidas three stripes from his kit and boots, something that only the untrained eye would have seen at the time. In 2013 adidas, who sponsor and have an investment in Bayern Munich, were left fuming after the Bavarian side presented new signing Mario Gotze to the world at a press conference. No issues with that, except Gotze turned up wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the Nike swoosh on. Nobody from Bayern Munich thought that may not be a good idea before allowing him to enter stage left.

The actions this week may get brands thinking about who does hold the power in terms of the sponsorship deal and will no doubt set off a trend that without management could damage the brand value and reputation of some commercial partners.

More words of the dilemma faced by brand holders in the world of sports sponsorship can be read here from Trademark Review.

Nordic Football Clubs using Social Media

Digital-Football.com is the go to place for stats on how football clubs are using Social Media.  Today they have published an excellent study on the state of Social Media in the Nordic football region.

“As most of European club football comes to a close this month, some areas of the continent are only just in the middle of their fixture list. In particular, the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland continue to fight it out whilst the weather isn’t so bad. With this in mind, this week we take a look at how Nordic Football Clubs are using Football Social Media to engage with their fans.

The Nordic nations are most certainly early adopters of new technology and social media. For example, the Swedish population presence in social media has massively grown in the past few years. The percentage of Internet users who visit social networks has grown from 10% to 62% over five years. The main factor for the surge in growth is down to access to computers, Internet and broadband.

The breakdown for how many of the different generations who visit social networks has shown that men aged 16-45 are the largest group. While the older generation, 46-75 years now growing the faster than any other demographic. So, with this in mind it’s no wonder that football has been one of the most popular topics on social media channels.”

Read the full report over at Digital-Football.com