Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Social media due diligence on sports stars crucial for potential sponsors, says expert

Out-Law News | 23 Jun 2021 | 12:42 pm | 1 min. read

Companies looking to sponsor an athlete or sports clubs looking for a new star should ensure they carry out social media due diligence before signing any contracts, an expert has said.

Commenting in the wake of the decision by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to suspend bowler Ollie Robinson from international cricket due to historic tweets he had posted containing racist and sexist content, sports law expert Julian Diaz-Rainey said: “This case demonstrates the value for sports clubs, or companies seeking to sponsor a sports personality, of undertaking social media due diligence.”

“Sports players can cost millions to sign, are an asset of the organisation, and are used as brand ambassadors. Research into the player’s social media history is really important, as it may reveal opinions that are at odds with the ethics and values of the sports club, or the sponsor, and have a negative impact on their reputation,” Diaz-Rainey said.

After more tweets by other players were highlighted the ECB confirmed it would carry out a social media review “to address any historical issues, remind individuals of their personal responsibilities going forward, and help them learn lessons along the way”.

Roger Bescoby, director of compliance and development at Conflict International, which conducts vetting on behalf of its clients – including of a person’s social media activity – said: " Clinical studies show that a person’s online behaviour will be directly reflective of their offline behaviour. Our own research shows that currently nine out of 10 companies asked now admitted to carrying out social media checks on key employees.”

“Whether we are vetting prospective or new hires, carrying out brand and reputation screening or offering voluntary ‘cleansing’ of profiles, the content of an individual’s social media posts is a highly valuable and telling source of character scrutiny information. According to recent survey reports, over a third of companies admitted to disciplining or even dismissing employees on the basis of unacceptable posts,” Bescoby said.

“It must be borne in mind that any ‘scraping' analysis of a subject’s posts are limited to the individual privacy settings that exist on a particular profile account. Unless explicit consent is provided to ‘open’ a private account the full picture can rarely ever be seen. Our clients will pay particular attention to the ‘likes’ or ‘retweets’ that a subject posts, suggesting that such actions are often as indicative as those composed directly,” he said.