“Sport is very important for the brand Spain. It has enormous weight in image creation. It is one of our hubs facing abroad. The impact (of the Rubiales case) has been brutal, at least in the European space, where they are ojipláticos”. This is the analysis that Nieves Jimenez Padinan expert in brand and corporate reputation, of the impact that the reputational crisis of the Federation has had, both for the institution and for sport and the country itself.
Jiménez Padín has been responsible for the reputation, corporate brand and communication departments at El Corte Inglés and has represented the company in the Forum of Renowned Spanish Brands, among other positions and institutions. Currently, she is Director of Brand and Communication at Stratego Abogados. From her perspective, she analyzes with concern a serious case that has affected the corporate diplomacy of the RFEF and that it has dragged the brands that have commercial agreements with the Federation.
“A cloudy and macho image”
For Reputation Lab, which annually prepares the RepCore Nations report (Spain ranks 13th worldwide thanks, in part, to sport), reputation “is an emotional concept that encompasses feelings such as admiration, respect and trust. Or the opposite when it’s bad. These feelings condition the attitudes and behaviors of the interest groups of the company or organization, such as buying its products, applying for a job or investing in it”.
According to Maria Ruiz Pachecopartner of the consultancy in Mirada 360º (with a career in KMPG Grant Thornton or Zed), specialist in corporate reputation, brand and strategy, “the image of Spain in football, where we are leaders, both in men’s and women’s, makes us a focus of attention. With this conflict we have given a cloudy and macho imagealthough not all countries have the same consideration”.
As Jiménez Padín recalls, reputations are communicating vessels. Thus, the 21 brands associated with the Federation at different levels have been affected by what happened in recent days. The two listed on the Ibex 35, Iberdrola and Iberia, were the first to communicate their position. The airline did so hours after the meeting and Rubiales’ controversial speech asking “timely and relevant measures” to preserve “the rights and dignity of athletes”. In a message published on ‘X’ (formerly Twitter), he explained that “he has always supported and will continue to support” Spanish talent, sport and football.
Iberia and Iberdrola, the first to position themselves
Iberdrola, the great promoter of women’s sports in all its aspects, expressed its intention to continue “Betting on the defense of equal rights and dignity of women” and, in this sense, he assured that “any attitude that deviates from or goes against these values has no place in the world of sport or in society.”
For Ruiz Pacheco, a specialist in corporate reputation, what happened maintains “the perception that football continues to be macho and that he consents to a series of attitudes that absolutely clash with social values. The opposite of what we should feel for the footballers who have achieved a milestone that represents equality”.
As a sponsor of women’s football, Iberdrola observes “with great concern the situation that is tarnishing the victory of the team and is diverting the focus away from the field of play.” In just a few days, the companies have seen how the high return on investment caused by the World Cup victory turned into challenges that, as brands associated with the RFEF, they needed to solve.
“The companies involved have metrics to measure their reputation. They do it through the different interest groups or ‘stakeholders’. Even more so because when you join a sport you do it to gain image and associated positive values, especially in the case of women’s sports“adds Jiménez Padín.
The seriousness of what happened forces a quick and forceful reaction “on a matter where you cannot be passive.” sure condemned “any offensive or demeaning behaviour” and showed his confidence to make “the right decisions so that situations like the ones experienced are not repeated in the future.”
“The speed of reaction in reputation is essential”
As a common link between the sponsors is the support for the decisions that, from bodies such as the TAD, can be taken in this regard. Renfe, which buys advertising media at meetings held in Spain, went one step further and indicated that its legal services “they studied additional measures”.
For his part, multi-optics made an appeal “to deep reflection and the adoption of appropriate measures” and the company Victory, official beer of the team, stressed that “it will continue to support the players, the sport in general and especially its values” after “regretting” what happened and trusting that “the appropriate decisions will be made by the competent bodies”. Bull blood took sides in favor of the soccer players, “condemning the events that occurred”.
Of the four official sponsors of the RFEF, there are two that, to date, have not publicly stated their position. Is about Hawk Travel and Chinese technology TCL. Although if you do it now, it will no longer have an effect. “In matters of reputation, speed of reaction is essential. Taking a starting position is not the same as waiting to see what happens. Organizations have to align themselves with society, which, in this case, has had a common position“, explains Jiménez Padín.
For the brand reputation expert, the only effective solution involves structural changes: “The problem has ceased to be that of a person or their way of acting and has become that of an organization”. This was evidenced in the applause and adhesion of the assembly that later became rectification communiqués, whose greatest exponents, due to their relevance, were De la Fuente and Jorge Vilda.
The board evidenced “an old-fashioned leadership, applauded by those who were there”. Hence, Jiménez Padín considers that the only turn of events will come “with a public demonstration such as the change of the steering committee, with the inclusion of women, or reviewing the codes of conduct, implementing measures that review the protocols”.
The candidacy of the 2030 World Cup, in doubt
María Ruiz Pacheco believes that “a perception of bad governance in the Federation has increased, where it has been seen that there is a leader who does and undoes with appointments and remunerations in front of the cameras (the contract to Vilda and the offer to Montse Tomé). There has been a personalist struggle and a caudillo leadership.”
From the forced kiss of Rubiales to Hermoso to the development of the assembly, going through his behavior in the box, there has been “a catastrophic management, because what was a reputation problem has become a reality problem”. Because equality has become a strategic axis for the CSR (corporate social responsibility) of companies such as those that have expressed their disagreement with what happened in the RFEF.
Many of these companies have international operations, a field in which the image of the Federation and of Spanish football has also been questioned. The crisis comes at a key moment, with the race for the 2030 World Cup in the final phase (to be decided in June 2030). “In this sense, it is expected that the decisions of the Federation, FIFA, the footballers and the territorial ones will be able to give a sensible answer that shows that things are not as bad as they are perceived and that there is an intention to amend them”, sentence Ruiz Pacheco, from Mirada 360º.
For the mundalista appointment, the candidacy of Spain, Portugal and Morocco started as a favourite. Now, rivals, like Ignacio Alonso, from the Uruguayan Federation, are taking the opportunity to present weapons: “It’s a sign, it must be in South America.” And Víctor Francos himself, president of the CSD, admitted that “two weeks ago we were in a better position for the World Cup.”