UPDATE: April 23, 2021: JPMorgan Chase on Friday apologized for its financial backing of the controversial European Super League, saying it misjudged how the breakaway tournament would impact the soccer community.
"We clearly misjudged how this deal would be viewed by the wider football community and how it might impact them in the future," a JPMorgan spokesperson said. "We will learn from this."
JPMorgan Chase’s ties to the launch of a proposed European breakaway soccer tournament means the bank will have to engage in a reputational "cleanup" to enjoy a successful launch of its upcoming digital consumer bank in the U.K., a reputation management expert said.
"There’s no denying that the backlash over the connection to the controversial European Super League would have led to boycotts had the digital bank already been launched," said Ken Wisnefski, founder and CEO of the digital marketing firm WebiMax.
The proposed league, which JPMorgan agreed to underwrite for up to $4.8 billion, would guarantee competition for its founding clubs by doing away with relegation.
The European Super League, which organizers announced this week, has been met with spectacular fallout, as nine of the proposed league’s 12 founding clubs dropped out amid widespread backlash from fans, leagues and political figures.
Whether or not the league materializes remains to be seen. Despite the backlash and losing the majority of its founding teams, Real Madrid President and Super League Chairman Florentino Perez told a Spanish radio station Wednesday, "The project is on standby."
Regardless of the league’s future, the timing of the ESL’s announcement and subsequent blowback could present challenges for JPMorgan, which plans to roll out its digital consumer bank in the U.K. this year.
"Unlike football fans who pride themselves on their loyalty to clubs, banking customers are easily swayed if they don't feel their bank holds their best interests at heart or provide them with the services they need," said Sam Barber, vice president at Cognito, a financial services communications firm.
In January, the bank called its decision to launch a digital retail bank in the U.K. "a milestone" that would introduce British consumers to its retail products for the first time.
"This new endeavour underscores our commitment to a country where we have deep roots, thousands of employees and offices established for over 160 years,” JPMorgan Co-President Daniel Pinto said in a statement.
The bank’s corporate sustainability rating, however, has taken a hit in funding the ESL, something the financial giant can’t ignore ahead of the digital platform’s launch, Wisnefski said.
"The JPMorgan team needs to investigate what their desired customer base cares about from an environmental, social and governance perspective and take steps to aid those causes," he said.
U.K.-based Standard Ethics, which ranks companies based on their ESG performances, downgraded JPMorgan from "adequate" to "non-compliant" Wednesday, a result of its involvement in the project.
"This is a case where actions speak louder than words. There’s no taking back the damage that has been done, but banks, just like any other brand, have a chance at rehabbing their image by taking the proper steps moving forward," Wisnefski said.
The reputation of the bank’s outspoken CEO could also be at stake, as some are questioning Jamie Dimon's business acumen in light of the venture.
"How on earth did such an experienced CEO ... that is so good at connecting with the real world, how on earth did they let themselves let this proposal get to where it got?" said Chatham House Chair and former Goldman Sachs executive Jim O'Neill, who added Dimon needs to explain how the bank became involved in the maligned league.
"It is ridiculous, and epitomizes so much that has become wrong about modern sport," he told Bloomberg TV.
Despite suffering reputational damage as a result of backing the "disastrous" league, the ultimate impact on the digital bank’s launch — or its success — may not be overt, Barber said.
"You also have to consider that outside of the financial sector, it is not a household name among the U.K. public," Barber said. "If JPMorgan’s digital bank is better than what is currently on offer, and it’s easy to join, then its brand should overcome any reputational hangover caused by this saga."