Ryan Lochte‘s endorsement potential is likely to take a sharp hit after the Olympic swimmer’s admission on Friday that he lied about getting robbed at gunpoint late one night this week at the Rio Summer Games, sports marketers say.
One expert who hires celebrities to represent big-name brands said the 32-year-old gold medalist hurt himself by apologizing through a post on Instagram rather than in person.
“Sports fans have proven over decades to be very forgiving of their athlete heroes if those heroes are genuinely apologetic and prove over time that they’ve learned from their mistakes,” said Bob Williams, chief executive of Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing. “Ryan Lochte could have helped himself more by making his apology in front of a camera or at a press conference, difficult as that may be.”
“I want to apologize for my behavior last weekend — for not being more careful and candid in how I described the events of that early morning and for my role in taking the focus away from the many athletes fulfilling their dreams of participating in the Olympics,” Lochte wrote on Instagram.
Williams and other 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 a unusually compelling personal story -- to earn big, multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals.
“Given his age, he is less likely to be competitive going forward,”said David Carter, executive director of the Marshall Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.
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’s sponsorships this year were down from four years ago, when he competed in the London Summer Olympic Games. Gillette, Mutual of Omaha, Nissan, AT&T and Gatorade have all had endorsement deals with Lochte in the past, likely earning him several million dollars. But those deals have expired.
Lochte’s website lists Speedo, Airweave and Ralph Lauren Polo as sponsors. Published reports, including by Bloomberg, said the swimmer had a sponsorship deal with Marriott International.
“Marriott International is a sponsor of USA Swimming but does not currently have a relationship with Ryan Lochte,” Marriott spokesperson Angela Wiggins said in an email.
It appears that so far that at least one sponsor is sticking by him.
Japanese mattress manufacturer Airweave, which counts Lochte as an endorser, implied they are retaining him.
Bloomberg quoted an e-mail from Airweave founder Motokuni Takaoka, which said: “I respect the athletic performance of Ryan, and 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. We are focused on supporting Team USA and our support to them will remain the same.”
Speedo’s agreement with Lochte, reportedly a 10-year deal signed in 2006, expires this year.
“Speedo is following the situation, and has a policy not to comment on ongoing legal investigations,” the company said in a statement, according to published reports.
Bob Williams, chief executive of Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing, was misidentified in an earlier post. This story has been updated.