Last week, Apple’s comedy smash hit Ted Lasso took an unexpected turn when it tackled a more weighty issue — corruption in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry. Spoilers ahead.
If you haven’t seen the show, Ted Lasso is about an eponymous American football coach hired by an English football team — AFC Richmond — for a myriad of comedic and messy socialite, double-barrelled name, divorce-related reasons.
In season two, episode three, titled “Do the Right-est Thing,” Nigerian right-back defender Sam Obisanya receives a distressing iMessage from his father. One of Richmond’s sponsors, Dubai Air, is owned by Cerithium Oil. Cerithium is accused of polluting Sam’s home country, and Nigerian officials are accused of turning a blind eye. Though fictional, the scenario appears to draw heavily from Shell’s longtime issues in Nigeria.
Sam pulls out of the Dubai Air campaign, and Richmond owner Rebecca phones the Cerithium CEO to let him know and to smooth over the decision. The show portrays the oil company CEO, an unseen character named Richard Cole, as a real sleazeball.
In the locker room before the game, Sam covers the Dubai Air logo on his jersey with black tape. It’s a swelling moment as the rest of the team follows suit in solidarity with the other Nigerians on the team. When the taped-up jerseys are debuted on the pitch, Rebecca receives a call from Cole that she promptly declines.
After the game, Coach Lasso turns over the press conference to Sam, who expresses that only questions about the corruption in Nigeria will be answered.
The exchange with the press goes as follows:
Trent Crimm (from The Independent): Sam, are you openly accusing the Nigerian government of corruption?
Sam: Yes, I am.
The show is demonstrating that allegations of corruption and environmental damage can hurt your brand elsewhere. It’s a great example of what our compliance industry calls “reputational damage.” If a company is caught in malfeasance in one area, it will likely hurt them in other areas as consumers and end-users will have a more negative sentiment about the brand as a whole.
Kudos to Apple for introducing a corruption subplot in what is arguably the biggest show in the world right now. We’ll need to wait and see if this subplot is expanded further and if AFC Richmond can finally win a game.