Thursday, July 16, 2009

£168k Corporate Gifts for Footballers

The claims today that footballers from English Premiership club Manchester City each received a gift of a watch worth £168,000 raises a number of issues, and somewhere on that list is the whole issue of how to incentivise people, how to reward them, and how to show recognition appropriate to their status. The Franck Muller timepieces were apparently presented to the players by the club's owner, Sheikh Mansour, as he welcomed them to a royal reception at his palace in Abu Dhabi. Of course, context is everything, and when you are one of the world's richest people and a member of royalty then the scope of suitable corporate gifts is in an entirely different league to mere businesses and organisations. And in this particular case the recipients, professional footballers from the richest league in the world, are all millionaires themselves. But even so, a gift that is worth more than a month's wages for those millionaire footballers does raise a question about proportion. Clearly the gift-giver wanted to create a certain impression on the recipients - as well as a wider audience - and that intention may have included demonstrating his generosity, showing his respect for the players, and making a statement about the sheer scale of his wealth. But as owners and managers of businesses of all sizes will attest, it is a delicate question of whether a gift is received with the feelings that were intended, or whether in fact it creates an entirely different reaction. In the case of lower paid workers, for instance, a gift that amounted to one month's wages may easily be seen as inappropriate. Another issue raised is that of incentivising people. In this case the gift - and the lavish reception - were simply a gesture of recognition and also, perhaps, intent. It was not a reward for any particular achievement. In fact, if reports are to be believed, the Manchester City players will share a jackpot of £10m if they finish in the top four of the English Premiership at the end of the 2009-10 season. That performance bonus is not for actually winning anything, simply for finishing in a place that qualifies them for the following season's Champion's League. Again, this raises the question of the appropriateness of performance incentives, particularly at the higher levels of professional sport where actually it seems to be recognition of ability - by way of trophies, medals and awards - that really motivates the top players. It will be an interesting experiment at Man City this coming season for many reasons, one of which will be the knock-on effect on other clubs of the huge business gifts and incentive bonuses offered to the players.