Ryan Lochte made a lot of endorsement money winning medals in four different Olympics. He even got an E! reality show. But all that is about to change after he got drunk and belligerent and tried to blame it on Rio.
Lochte is estimated to have lost $1 million in deals due to his sponsors summarily dropping him, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell. Since Lochte admitted he was dishonest about an incident at a gas station, he has picked up an endorsement with Pine Bros., a throat lozenge company, and been offered a deal with the manufacturer of an autoerotic device.
But prestigious as those offers are, they probably don’t take away the sting of losing deals with Speedo and Ralph Lauren.
And with Lochte at the twilight of his career — the only medal he managed at the Rio Olympics was a relay gold — he won’t have too many more opportunities on one of the world’s biggest stages, one that comes only once every four years for swimmers.
For those trapped underground for the past two weeks, Lochte and three other U.S. swimmers stopped at a gas station after returning from a party and committed minor acts of vandalism including urinating on a wall. Security guards ordered them to pay for the damage at gunpoint.
Lochte had initially claimed he and his crew were robbed at gunpoint, but that story fell apart when surveillance footage emerged and the other swimmers flipped on Lochte during interviews.
Thursday, Lochte was charged in Brazil with filing a false police report, although he has been safely in the U.S. since shortly after the episode.
Brenda Robinson, a partner at Greenberg Glusker who’s worked on endorsement deals, said it was no surprise Lochte’s endorsers dropped the hammer quick. The longer they kept the affiliation, the more public outrage would have swelled, she said.
“An athlete is chosen as a brand ambassador because the public has developed confidence in them and the values they represent,” she said. “When that confidence is breached, a brand virtually has no choice but to quickly disassociate and regroup. The brand is under increasing pressure to demonstrate to the public that they get it. Any delay in response can have just as negative an impact as if the company never acted at all.”
The Lochte incident also plays right into the hands of boisterous “ugly American” stereotypes, so he’s unlikely to earn much love abroad, which can be important to Olympians. In an interview with Brazil’s ubiquitous broadcast network, Globo, Lochte apologized for exaggerating about the incident but still claimed to be a victim of extortion.
When the interview was subsequently posted on Globo’s website, people overwhelmingly disapproved of comments that expressed sympathy for Lochte.
Lochte’s teammate and the most decorated Olympian ever, Michael Phelps, lost an endorsement deal with Kellogg’s in 2009 when he was caught on camera taking a bong rip. He also got a DUI in 2014. But Phelps was able to rehabilitate his image largely by winning more gold medals.
Robinson said there’s almost always an opportunity for redemption, but that depends on the athlete’s immediate reaction.
“The public can be very forgiving after sufficient time has passed, but much of this largely depends on how well the disgraced athlete handled the situation during the immediate aftermath,” she said. “With grace, maturity and demonstrated acceptance of responsibility, there is room for redemption. Like any good comeback, there is often room for second chances.”