Whether you perceived it as harmless banter or casual chauvinism at its worst, there is no doubt that Sky Sports' sexism scandal has called the broadcaster's brand image into question.
While the majority of its audience is male, it would be disingenuous to suggest all would agree with Richard Keys that it was just 'lads' mag banter'.
The furore kicked off when presenters Richard Keys and Gray were recorded off-air during the Liverpool vs Wolverhampton Wanderers Premiership match on 22 January, claiming that, because she is a woman, assistant referee Sian Massey would be unable to understand the offside rule.
That in itself was enough to spark public outrage and dominate the headlines. As seen in our graph, the soaring volume of negative online chat reflected public opinion.
More footage emerged the following week, of Gray asking a female colleague to tuck a microphone down his trousers, while an audio recording of Keys talking to Jamie Redknapp, found him using inappropriate language in relation to the ex-footballer's private life.
Gray was sacked and Keys resigned, but is that the end of Sky Sports' problem? We asked Kevin Peake, marketing director of Npower, which has sponsored programming on Sky Sports for the past 10 years, and Jon Tipple, head of planning at McCann Erickson, which has collaborated with equality campaigners Kick It Out on a video to challenge sex discrimination in football.
KEVIN PEAKE marketing director, Npower
Figures show that people, especially women, are taking to social media forums to air their upset at Keys' and Gray's exposed off-camera comments, but I'd be very surprised if this did any lasting damage to Sky's reputation.
In the past 10 years of our sponsorship, we have seen Sky Sports at close quarters and the professionalism is outstanding: it has changed the face of sports in Britain.
That said, recent studies show that web users recall more brand negatives than positives. So, when potentially brand-damaging news like this breaks, companies need to work quickly.
This is particularly true in this case, because we know from research that women are more likely to use their smartphones to tweet or network on the move.
It is essential in these kinds of situations for brands to decide swiftly on the right strategy to adopt - whether that is issuing an apology, making sure that all staff are on the same page or simply deciding to maintain a dignified silence.
- Keep the forums open. Don't try to stifle comment, even if it's negative, as people are likely to become even more volatile as a result. Engage with them instead.
- Football may be widely viewed as a man's game, but more and more women are turning to social media. Optimise sporting social media and blogging offerings to please female Sky fans.
- Focus on the future - talk about 3D, Sky's corporate responsibility programmes and its other quality presenters, such as Mike Atherton on the cricket commentary team.
JON TIPPLE head of planning, McCann Erickson
When I heard that there was apparently lots of bad stuff about Sky Sports after 'Smashitgate' on Twitter, I thought I'd do some research of my own.
Being part-media type and part-real football supporter, I have a nice mix of followers, both 'media folks' and 'real people'.
Here's what happened:
@supahoopz (me) Quick question re the Gray/Keys sexism row - how are people feeling towards Sky Sports? Brand in trouble or storm in a tea-cup?
@QPRScott (real person) Storm in a t cup. many didn't like them anyway, and tbh it's about watching the games not who's on the panel before and afters.
@underemployed (media person) Sky Sports doesn't really need a brand as long as it has a monopoly on sport.
@onlyoneJamieMackie (real person) I think it's seen as a personal story rather than a Sky problem.
@charliec2 (media person) Keys/Gray gave SS a chance to refresh their team without the negative publicity (a la beeb) of enforced retirement.
For me, this isn't about Sky; this is Keys' and Gray's disaster and it will be subsumed by the next 'breaking news'. However, Sky should use this sad episode to make not just a change of personnel, but also a statement of better intent.
- Revolutionise the whole presenter/pundit format. The BBC has this traditional approach sewn up. Sky is best when it innovates.
- Go mad and give women's football some meaningful coverage, as Sky has for the successful England women's cricket team.
- Give Sian Massey a job, as it's now just about impossible for her to continue as a match official.
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk