The slow-burning saga that is the Nicolas Anelka controversy has reached its latest chapter this week with news that the French striker has been charged by the FA for the gesture he made after scoring against West Ham.
The development came just a few days after West Brom’s main sponsor had announced that it was pulling its deal in the wake of the controversial “quenelle” gesture that has upset so many people and dominated the front and back pages.
It means that as well as the wider issue of what will happen to Anelka and the impact it will have on his team, it has also thrown the spotlight once again on the role of sponsors in sport.
It’s important to repeat that Anelka has defended his goal celebration.
“Of course, I am neither racist nor anti-semitic and I fully assume my gesture,” he said the day after the incident.
“The meaning of quenelle is anti-system. I do not know what religion has to do with this story.”
But that was not good enough for shirt sponsor Zoopla, which has decided to end its deal with the Baggies at the end of this season.
The property website is co-owned by a Jewish businessman, and it has decided to pull the plug following the controversial affair.
The move by Zoopla is not the financial bombshell for West Brom that it might initially have appeared to be, however. The shirt sponsorship deal is a two-year agreement that runs out at the end of this campaign anyway.
There was to be the option of a third year tacked on to the end of the deal, but the whole point of an “option” is that both parties know that it might or might not be invoked.
So West Brom haven’t suddenly been left in the lurch. Indeed, they have a good few months in which to make alternative arrangements for next season.
Some might argue that Zoopla’s move is a case of slamming the stable door after the horse has bolted.
In terms of adverse publicity, the damage has surely already been done to Zoopla’s reputation – the image of Anelka doing the quenelle while wearing a shirt emblazoned with the sponsor’s name on it has already been shown around the world on television and in print and will be again for some time to come.
Ending the relationship with the football club is not going to undo any of the negative publicity that came with Anelka’s actions.
It is possible that Zoopla would have ended the current arrangement anyway – after all, it is probably around now that the issue of whether to renew or not needs addressing.
None of that is to doubt the motives behind Zoopla’s move, however. If they were offended – as so many others were – by what Anelka did, they have every right to make such a commercial decision. It’s their money, after all.
Away from the politics, what this affair has shown is that sponsors are often interested in more than just results.
Image – not just winning – is what defines a successful relationship.
It is not the first time a sponsor has thrown its weight around because of negative publicity from a team or player.
Perhaps the most recent example in recent years was that of Lance Armstrong. It’s no surprise in itself that sponsors have been fleeing from him – there is, after all, no true sportsman left to sponsor – but he is now being sued as his commercial partners try to get their money back from someone who tarnished the whole world of professional cycling.
Indeed, one of the reasons that Armstrong has been so reticent to admit his guilt is reportedly because that would leave him open to all sorts of lawsuits from those who had backed him financially.
Then there was the case of Stephanie Rice, an Australian swimmer who went from hero to zero with both the public and her sponsors. She won three Golds at the 2008 Olympics but was forced to apologise a couple of years later following a homophobic Tweet.
It led to the breakdown of her relationship with Jaguar, and she was told to return the top-of-the-range car that had come as part of the deal.
Tiger Woods was another high-profile sportsman who lost a number of lucrative deals when his personal problems came to light a few years ago.
The likes of AT&T, Gillette and General Motors either severed their deals with him or suspended their ad campaigns when he fell from grace.
What the Woods example shows, however, is that things do pass eventually.
The golf star didn’t fall completely out of favour with the household names and today he enjoys lucrative tie-ups with big-name brands such as Nike, Electronic Arts and Rolex.
Nike alone pays him more than $20m a year. As with Woods, although the move by Zoopla is not something that West Brom would have wanted, they can cope with it. The club said they were “aware the deal could expire” and they had been making contingency plans.
A deal worth £3m over two years is decent money – after all, it could buy a striker that could keep the Baggies in the Premier League – but the end of the deal is not the end of the world for a moneybags Premier League team that has six months to get a replacement deal signed with someone else.
It’s not like the crisis that struck Football League clubs when the ITV Digital deal collapsed a decade or so ago.
West Brom will cope. But it highlights how important it is not to put all your eggs into one commercial basket.