Thu, Nov 26, 2020

Controlling the Leaking of Sports Information Into the Public Domain

Leaks of sensitive and strategic information from sports organisations need not be part and parcel of the game, writes Andrew Whelan, an associate managing director at Kroll.

Upon buying a newspaper, many supporters turn immediately to read the stories printed in the sports section, with articles on the front pages often of secondary interest.

The intense interest in sports has, in recent years, led to a growth in the sports media landscape, with newspapers now competing against specialist publications and well-informed bloggers and commentators.

To cater to this growth, many sports organizations today employ teams of public relations and communications specialists to facilitate what information is released into the public domain.

However, the broadening media landscape and unquenchable appetite for sports news and gossip means there is always an outlet for individuals seeking to place their own version of events into the public domain. From traditional media channels like newspapers and television to digital outlets, such as social media profiles and fan forums, there are multiple ways to publish content.

Sometimes, the stories that emerge from unofficial sources of information channels do not gain traction and the news cycle moves on. On other occasions, the reputational, commercial or strategic damage to a sports franchise or player can be considerable. This is particularly true, and often the case, if there is a culture of leaks within an organization.

Kroll has a long and successful track record of assisting organizations with problems related to leaks of sensitive information. We have assisted banks, privately owned and listed corporates, and government-owned entities identify the source of leaks of information and take steps to remediate the situation.

Similarly, over the past few years, we have been contacted by clubs and regulators whose executives have grown exasperated by confidential and strategic information being leaked from their training grounds, dressing rooms and boardrooms. We have seen team line-ups making their way into the press, the identities of transfer targets being named on social media, stadium plans being published on blogs, and board room discussions being shared to journalists at major publications.

When information is leaked from a sports organization into the public domain, often the source of the information has a clearly identifiable agenda, such as undermining the manager or CEO, or challenging the track record of a candidate ahead of elections.

Whilst agenda is something to consider during any leak of information investigation, on occasion information has been leaked into the public domain unwittingly. In one example, a player was sharing training ground secrets to a close friend who was subsequently posting the information, using a pseudonym, on social media to boost their following. Whether the motives are malicious or not, the resulting effect can be equally damaging.

It would appear that executives at clubs and regulators are becoming increasingly aware that, just because sport attracts such intense media interest and public following, leaks of sensitive and strategic information need not be just part and parcel of the game.

Given the greater financial rewards at stake and importance of achieving a competitive advantage both off and on the field, there is arguably more to lose from confidential and strategic information being released into the public domain now than ever before.

On occasion, initially, some sports organizations have attempted to tackle a leak problem themselves. However, this path needs to be trodden carefully, as it can create objectivity, independence and oversight issues and can give an individual who is identified as a leaker cause to challenge the findings. More often, such internal investigations fail to get to the bottom of the problem and instead have the detrimental effect of alerting the leaker to the enquiry. This is why, when discussing leaks with our clients, we always advise an independent investigation by experienced advisors. 

When a sports team has a problem in defence or in attack, the best results are achieved when they hire specialists for the respective positions. Similarly, when they have a leaks problem, the best results are usually achieved when they hire specialists to investigate the problem.

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