Ryan Lochte felt his finances take a major hit on Monday after all of his major sponsors including Speedo and Ralph Lauren unceremoniously dropped him. It’s not surprising after the swimmers not ready for Primetime Matt Lauer interview hit on Saturday with a thud.
He quickly learned that the drunken Rio incident he initially tried to pass off as an armed robbery has hit him where he feared most. During the Matt Lauer interview Lochte worked up some emotion about letting down his team, but the most honest moment was when Lauer mentioned him losing his sponsors. You could see that the question visibly shook Lochte, and now he’s having it come true.
In quick succession, four sponsors announced they were dumping the swimmer, who has since apologized and conceded that he embellished what happened during a now-infamous stop at a Rio gas station.
Swimsuit company Speedo USA, clothing giant Ralph Lauren and skin-care firm Syneron-Candela issued statements less than three hours apart, all with the same message: Lochte is out. Before the day was done, Japanese mattress maker Airweave followed suit, essentially wiping out Lochte’s income away from the pool.
In addition, Speedo USA said $50,000 that would’ve gone to the 12-time Olympic medalist was being donated to Save The Children to benefit needy youngsters in Brazil.
“While we have enjoyed a winning relationship with Ryan for over a decade and he has been an important member of the Speedo team, we cannot condone behavior that is counter to the values this brand has long stood for,” the prominent swimsuit company said. “We appreciate his many achievements and hope he moves forward and learns from this experience.”
Ralph Lauren, which provided the Polo-branded attire worn by the U.S. team at the opening and closing ceremonies, said it would not be renewing the contract that provided Lochte with financial support leading up to Rio.
“Ralph Lauren continues to proudly sponsor the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Team and the values that its athletes embody. Ralph Lauren’s endorsement agreement with Ryan Lochte was specifically in support of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the company will not be renewing his contract.”
The statement from airweave said it had a similar arrangement with the swimmer. Both stressed they would continue their support of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams.
Syneron-Candela offers a line of skin treatment products that deal with issues such as wrinkle reduction.
“We hold our employees to high standards, and we expect the same of our business partners,” the company said.
Lochte issued a statement through his public relations firm thanking Speedo USA for its long support. He did not immediately address the other companies dropping their endorsements.
“I respect Speedo’s decision and am grateful for the opportunities that our partnership has afforded me over the years,” Lochte said.
Initially, Lochte said he and three teammates – Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen – were robbed after their taxi was pulled over by armed men posing as police just hours after the swimming competition ended in Rio de Janeiro.
That version quickly unraveled when police said the swimmers, who had attended a late-night party, never reported the incident to authorities, and there was scant evidence of a robbery. Video surveillance emerged showing the athletes getting into a confrontation with armed security guards over alleged vandalism at the gas station when their taxi pulled over to let them use the restroom.
While there have been conflicting versions over whether the guards pulled their weapons on the swimmers, Lochte has since acknowledged he was highly intoxicated and that his behavior led to the confrontation, which resulted in the swimmers paying some $50 in U.S. and Brazilian currency before they were allowed to leave. The incident caused a furor in Rio, where street crime was a major issue heading into the games.
Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said he wasn’t surprised by the decision since most of Lochte’s marketing value was tied to campaigns prior to the Olympics.
“I would think it was an easy decision to cut ties now,” Swangard said. “For someone like Lochte, he’s really destroyed almost all of his short-term marketability. Brands can easily seek out other athletes for the next Olympic cycle.”
Marketers said many younger Olympic stars emerge with each four-year cycle of the Games. With the competition for endorsements so fierce, it now takes several gold medals — or an unusually compelling personal story — to earn big, multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals. At 32, it may be impossible for Lochte to recover, they said.
“Given his age, he is less likely to be competitive going forward,” David Carter, executive director of the Marshall Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California, said Friday.
Lochte’s brain trust had already begun the rehabilitation process. His team, which includes Creative Artists Agency, has retained public relations specialist Matthew Hiltzik to help the athlete repair his image. Hiltzik declined to comment Friday.
Lochte told TMZ that he has yet to make a decision about whether to seek help for his drinking. In his first televised mea culpa on NBC, he admitted he was “still intoxicated” when he made the initial robbery claim during an appearance on the network Aug. 14.
“It’s definitely something that I’m going to have to be more responsible about,” Lochte told TMZ when asked about his drinking. “Everything that happened in Rio, I’m definitely going to learn from it. We’re human, we learn from our mistakes.
“Right now I need to just see my family and talk with them about what I’m going to do.”
The financial costs of losing Speedo and Ralph Lauren are likely to be only the first sanctions that await Lochte, whose antics tarnished a powerful showing by the American team and dominating news away from the stadiums and arenas in the final days of the Rio Games.
Both the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Swimming have indicated that Lochte will be punished, perhaps endangering the 32-year-old’s hopes of competing in a fifth Olympics at Tokyo in 2020. He could also face criminal charges in Brazil, where the other swimmers were initially barred from leaving the country until they were interviewed by authorities.
Feigen wound up donating just under $11,000 to a Brazilian nonprofit sports organization to settle any potential legal action. Bentz issued a statement saying Lochte tore a sign off a wall at the gas station and got into a heated exchange with the security officers, though Bentz denied the swimmers did any damage to a locked bathroom as authorities alleged.
In the last of three interviews with NBC that included ever-changing accounts of the incident, Lochte apologized and acknowledged he “over-exaggerated the story.” He made a similar mea culpa to Brazil’s main broadcaster, Globo.
Long one of the most popular U.S. athletes, the laid-back swimmer is known for his trademark saying “Jeah!” and such antics as wearing diamond grillz on the medal stand and dying his hair a silvery color before the Rio Games. Lochte also starred in a short-lived reality television show after the 2012 Olympics.
For these games, he qualified in only one individual event, finishing fifth in the 200-meter individual medley, far behind longtime rival Michael Phelps. Lochte did help Phelps and the Americans win gold in the 4×200 freestyle relay.
“In this day and age, there’s one pretty important rule that anybody in the public eye should think about: Don’t lie,” said Joe Favorito, a sports marketing expert and professor at Columbia, on Friday. “We live in a world where everything is going to be exposed. 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.
Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert and executive creative director for Baker Street Advertising, also pointed out that Lochte, 32, is on the back end of his swimming career. He won just one medal at the Rio Games, as part of the 4×200-meter freestyle relay.
“Lochte’s shelf life was already limited as an endorser,” Dorfman said of this week’s controversy. “He’s now just fallen off the shelf.”