Updated at 8:30 p.m. EDT with more companies following suit
The NBA will announce the results of its investigation into racially insensitive comments allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling on Tuesday, but already his franchise is paying a price.
CarMax pulled its nine-year sponsorship of the Clippers, saying in a statement that it “finds the statements attributed to the Clippers’ owner completely unacceptable,” and State Farm announced that it is “taking a pause in its relationship” with the team. In the early afternoon, Virgin America ended its sponsorship, according to CNBC’s Ryan Ruggiero. So did the Chumash Resort Casino, the team’s presenting sponsor for four years, and Mercedes-Benz. By midafternoon, Kia Motors America, Red Bull, Lumber Liquidators, Yokohama Tire, LoanMart, Corona, AQUAhydrate and Sprint had suspended their sponsorships. Amtrak, USA Today reported, “is working to remove any remnants of a sponsorship agreement it had with the Clippers that expired at the end of the regular season.” A spokesman said it will monitor the situation as it considers 2014-15 marketing sponsorships in sports.
State Farm said in a statement:
The remarks attributed to the Clippers’ owner are offensive. While those involved sort out the facts, we will be taking a pause in our relationship with the organization. We are monitoring the situation and we’ll continually assess our options. We have a great relationship with Chris Paul and will continue supporting the Born to Assist advertising campaign involving Chris and now other NBA players.
Earlier Monday, Steve Stoute, CEO of Translation, a marketing firm connected to State Farm, urged the insurance company and others to suspend sponsorship of the team because of comments that have stirred an outrage over the weekend. State Farm, of course, is the company that pays Paul, who is also president of the National Basketball Players Association, for those “Chris Paul/Cliff Paul” ads Stoute helped create.
Stoute made his comments today on ESPN’s “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” show, urging the company to suspend spending as long as Sterling owns the team because “somebody has to stand up.” “I’m telling the brands, ‘Let’s pull sponsorship,’ starting with State Farm,” Stoute said. “We have a great program Chris Paul and Cliff Paul and that whole program. When you have things like this taking place, somebody has to stand up.”
State Farm also has a close relationship with Air Jordan, whose CP3 shoes are featured in the insurance company’s ads. Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, said Sunday he was “disgusted” as a player and “completely outraged” as an owner by Sterling’s alleged comments to his girlfriend about not bringing blacks to games and urging her to delete a photo from Instagram of her and Magic Johnson.
Kia, which features Blake Griffin in its commercials, called statements attributed to Sterling “offensive and reprehensible.” Red Bull, in its announcement said it would “continue to support our Red Bull athlete, Blake Griffin, his teammates and coaching staff in their pursuit of an NBA title.”
AQUAhydrate, in suspending its sponsorship, said: “In the wake of Donald Sterling’s alleged defamatory and intolerable comments we have decided to suspend our sponsorship with the LA Clippers until the NBA completes its investigation. We fully support the players and fans of the LA Clippers and wish them the best in the remainder of the playoffs.”
There have been a number of calls for fans and sponsors to exert their influence. Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange.org, said in a statement:
“As of this morning State Farm and CarMax have announced it will no longer sponsor the Los Angeles Clippers. We are encouraged by this news and look forward to seeing other corporations do the right thing and follow suit. Corporations have a choice. They can either continue aligning with Donald Sterling, or stand up and end their association with Sterling and his racist, dehumanizing language and actions. ColorOfChange members will continue to raise their voices, and hold those that continue associating with Sterling accountable.”
Staples Center is going to be one sign-less place, at least as far as sponsors go, for Game 5.
(Thanks to Mediaite for the clip.)
Correction: An earlier version referred to Stoute the CEO of State Farm. He is CEO of the ad agency Translation.