Huawei sponsors the Canberra Raiders
go to site Many Australians were caught off guard when Huawei, a Chinese telecom provider, announced its sponsorship of the Canberra Raiders. The huge company signed a two-year, $1.7 million deal, the company’s first major sports sponsorship, and it is one that’s drawn as much criticism as it has praise.
While Huawei is the second largest manufacturer of telecom equipment, it’s reputation has been sullied somewhat over the past decade. This has lead the brand to take a back seat to its products and services – until now, of course. Raiders chief executive Don Furner told reporters, “By their own admission, they are a company that most people in Australia have used, but have never heard of”. And this has been a deliberate move on the part of Huawei.
With a secretive founder who has been accused of murky links to the People’s Liberation Army, Huawei’s public image was always in for a rocky start. The most recent blow to the organisation was the Gillard government’s ruling that excluded Huawei’s tender for National Broadband Network business citing ”national security issues”.
The latter of the two issues has lead Huawei Australia chairman John Lord to say that the sponsorship of the rugby team is legitimate in a desperate bid to recover faith from Australian consumers.
“This is not aimed at the federal government. This is aimed at the branding, the image,” he said. “From my perspective and my fellow Australian directors’ perspective, we’ve done our due diligence. We are confident this is a private company. It’s not a Chinese government company and people don’t seem to understand that.”
Will Australians ever understand?
The Raiders move is as much about building brand recognition as it is about building consumer trust. Mere weeks after being excluded from NBN business, the ink was drying on the Raiders sponsorship contract. To expand business in Australia, Huawei became painfully aware that it must first foster confidence in its public image.
Is it working?
The Huawei sponsorship is sure to trigger some debate, with the telecom firm having withdrawn from a sponsorship deal with the ACT Brumbies at the last minute just before Christmas.
But Huwaei has been dogged by controversy long before it came to the idea of sports sponsorship. In 2003, the corporation came under fire from Cisco Systems, which accused it of patent infringement and theft. Then, in 2011, a report commissioned and released by the US Congress deemed it a “national security threat”. The damning findings obviously hampered the tech giant’s ability to expand geographically, something they are perhaps hoping to change with a presence in the rugby league.
Indeed, Gillard – whose government was instrumental in raising doubts about Huawei after refusing to do business with it – has seemingly welcomed its presence in Australia. She is quoted as having told reporters last week that she welcomed the corporation “to seek opportunities to grow its commercial business in Australia, and to continue to forge partnerships with Australian companies and educational institutions”.
The change in direction may be tepid, but it’s still palpable. Is Huawei on the path to redemption with Australian consumers? Only time will tell.