Social media has vastly changed the business of governing major sport leagues in a relatively short amount of time.
That much was obvious when newly-appointed National Basketball Assocation commissioner Adam Silver handed down the maximum penalty – a $2.5 million fine and lifelong ban from any association with the league – to disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Furthermore Sterling – one of the longest-serving owners in the NBA to the point where he assisted in drafting the constitution which was bought down on him like a tonne of bricks – will be forced to sell his franchise which is now finally enjoying success after decades of living in the LA Lakers’ shadow.
It cannot be disputed that Silver’s decision somewhat came down to a new top dog making a statement after working for the league under David Stern for the last 22 years of Stern’s 30-year tenure, and the ruling hammers home the NBA’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy on racism to the nth degree.
There was something else playing large in the decision-making process of the 52-year old, though; the ever-growing potency of social media.
Social media, in particular Twitter, has provided the public with a platform to voice their opinions on a massive scale. The opinions of the supporters has always weighed into major decisions in sport governance but now that a small group of friends discussing their disapproval has given way to millions of fans voicing their outrage online the average Joe has become a far more damaging force.
If a governing body lets anybody off easy Twitter will erupt in outrage and the pressure to make the next decision the right one increases and so on until high-ranking officials find themselves out of a job.
Credit where it’s due for Silver – he has handled the Sterling case without fault to date, but there lies the long process of forcing the sale of the Clippers ahead of him, and if he is to ease up at any moment the good he has done will be instantly forgotten and the pressure will be back on.
Closer to home than the head office of the NBA another newly-appointed CEO about to step into the big job after a long tenure as second in charge will soon have big decisions to make.
Gillon McLachlan will step into the shoes filled by Andrew Demetriou since 2003 as AFL CEO in less than a month’s time, as the ASADA investigation into Essendon slowly but surely comes to an end.
Once the Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel gives their recommendation on sanctions for Essendon to the AFL it will be down to McLachlan, the AFL commission and the AFL tribunal to impose infractions on the Bombers.
If the AFL give Essendon any less than what is recommended by the ADRVP, social media will rear its head, and whether it’s justified or not Gil’s intensity will be questioned and he will have started his stint in charge of the league on the wrong foot.
Not only will supporters of the other 17 clubs be linking arms in a public outrage against the AFL for letting one of the biggest clubs in the league off lightly where a small club might have been harshly treated, but the World Anti Doping Agency via the Court of Arbitration for Sport could overrule any sanctions handed down the AFL if the recommendations of the ADRVP are not followed.
By no means does this mean McLachlan – who knocked back the NRL when they offered him the position of CEO in 2012 – must slap Essendon with the harshest penalties possible, but if he was to not consider the power of the fans, now they have an easily accessible platform via which they can unite in their disapproval, his initiation into the role of CEO will be stressful, embarrassing and difficult.
Furthermore, if he does not quickly adapt to this new age of sport governance his job could be under threat before he can make his mark on the game.