Airweave Stands By Lochte, But Other Sponsors Taking A Wait-And-See Approach
Ryan Lochte currently counts mattress manufacturer Airweave as a sponsor, and company Founder & CEO Motokuni Takaoka said that the company would continue to "support the embattled U.S. swimmer," according to Soshnick & Novy-Williams of BLOOMBERG NEWS. Takoka, whose company also is a USOC sponsor, "declined to comment specifically on Lochte's predicament." Takoka wrote in an email, "As long as he is a respectable athlete, he will remain the U.S. ambassador for Airweave as long as our partnership agreement remains effective." Airwearve, which is based in Japan, is an official sponsor of the '20 Tokyo Games and also "sponsors U.S. Volleyball, Swimming and Diving and provided some Olympic athletes with travel mattresses for the Rio Games" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 8/19). A Speedo spokesperson confirmed Thursday that Lochte "continues to be sponsored by the swimwear brand." However, the company declined to comment on its future with Lochte. A spokesperson for USOC sponsor Polo Ralph Lauren on Thursday said, "We are working closely with the USOC on the developments in Rio and are reviewing the situation." WOMEN'S WEAR DAILY's Rosemary Feitelberg noted execs at Gatorade and Marriott did "not respond to requests for comment Thursday." Although Gillette is "listed among Lochte's sponsors on his web site," a company spokesperson said that he "is not a Gillette-signed athlete" for the Rio Games (WWD.com, 8/18).
FUTURE NOT SO BRIGHT: ESPN.com's Darren Rovell noted a photo of Lochte "has since been removed from the front page" of Airweave's website. Sources said that Lochte has only around $1M worth of endorsements left, and his Speedo agreement, which was a 10-year deal signed in '06, "expires this year." Other sponsorships Lochte has include Syneron Medical, owner of Gentle Laser Hair Removal, which he "has been the face of since late April." Lochte "lists Marriott as a sponsor on his website," but the company said that id does "not currently have an endorsement relationship with Lochte" (ESPN.com, 8/18).
DEATH SENTENCE FOR MARKETERS? Illinois-based Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing CEO Bob Williams said if it Lochte did in fact lie about being robbed early Sunday morning along with three other U.S. swimmers, "it will virtually eliminate him from future endorsements." Williams: "Advertisers have become far less tolerant of controversial behavior of any type, and this is yet another type of controversial behavior that doesn't reflect well on a brand" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/19). PR consultant Joe Favorito said, "Brands are always looking for honest and authentic representatives because there's so much competition. There are so many Olympic athletes who you can choose from. You don't need any nonsense." Favorito "doesn't anticipate that new brands will want to align with Lochte." Favorito believes that Lochte's existing sponsors likely are "working to figure out exactly what happened and whether they want to hang on to the 12-time Olympic medalist" (USA TODAY, 8/19). USC Sports Business Institute Exec Dir David Carter said, "His existing sponsors may not drop him, but they may determine that slow-playing the situation -- reducing if not eliminating his presence -- is the way to go." Gary Fechter, a lawyer with McCarter & English who has worked in corporate endorsements, said of Lochte, "He'll be toxic for a while. Rightly or wrongly, until the full story comes out, he's tarnished" (REUTERS, 8/18). NBC's Bob Costas said Lochte has "probably cost himself millions and millions of dollars" ("Today," NBC, 8/19).
WHERE TO FROM HERE? CNN MONEY's Ahiza Garcia noted even without the scandal, Lochte "went to Rio with fewer sponsors than he had in London." If Lochte "decides to retire, a scandal could hurt his ability to market himself outside of the pool" (MONEY.CNN.com, 8/18). Marketing Evaluations Exec VP Henry Shafer, whose company runs Q Scores said that Lochte's scores "are already sinking" (N.Y. POST, 8/19). In Charlotte, Scott Fowler asks, "Can you imagine wanting to sponsor Ryan Lochte now?" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/19).