Speedo announced Monday that it has dropped U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte as an endorser after he admitted to “over-exaggerating” an armed-robbery claim made during the Rio Olympics. The company also announced it will be donating $50,000 of Lochte’s fee to Save the Children, which will direct the money toward youngsters in Brazil.
A few hours after the Speedo announcement, a Ralph Lauren official told ESPN’s Darren Rovell that the apparel company would not be renewing Lochte’s deal, leaving him with only two remaining sponsorship endorsements.
“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 swimwear company announced in a statement provided to The Washington Post. “We appreciate his many achievements and hope he moves forward and learns from this experience.”
Lochte issued his own statement after the Speedo news was released: “I respect Speedo’s decision and am grateful for the opportunities that our partnership has afforded me over the years. I am proud of the accomplishments that we have achieved together.”
The swimwear company and Lochte signed a reported 10-year deal in 2006, so it was set to expire this year. But Yahoo’s Pat Forde notes that the loss of Speedo will be “a significant blow to Lochte” because swimwear companies often make up a sizable portion of a swimmer’s sponsorship portfolio.
Lochte’s remaining endorsement deals are with Gentle Hair Removal and Airweave, a Japanese mattress manufacturer that has pledged to stand by him.
“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,” Airweave founder Motokuni Takaoka told Bloomberg. “We are focused on supporting Team USA and our support to them will remain the same.”
Ralph Lauren had removed Lochte’s name and image from its Olympic endorser page after the events in Rio.
Gentle Hair Removal’s parent company said last week that it would “reserve decisions until we have a more complete understanding of the situation.”
Lochte, a 12-time Olympic medalist, already had seen his endorsement opportunities plummet ahead of the Rio Games. He had deals with Gillette, Mutual of Omaha, Nissan, AT&T and Gatorade ahead of the London Olympics in 2012 – bringing in a reported $2.3 million annually – but those deals all expired. And, given his advanced age for an Olympic athlete (32), future deals seem unlikely to materialize, especially in the wake of the Rio incident.
Lochte initially claimed he and three U.S. swimming teammates were robbed at gunpoint early on the morning of Aug. 14 after a night of partying. But Brazilian authorities claim Lochte and his teammates vandalized a Rio gas station and were merely held at gunpoint by a security guard until police could arrive. The swimmers were able to secure their escape by paying off the gas station.
He apologized for the incident in an interview with NBC that aired Saturday night, admitting he was “still intoxicated” when he made the initial robbery claim during an appearance on the network the morning after the incident.
“If I had never done that, we would never be in this mess,” Lochte said. “Those guys would never be in Rio – or were in Rio. None of this would’ve happened. It was my immature behavior.”
Lochte initially apologized for the incident in a statement delivered via social media on Friday, a misstep according one sports-marketing observer.
“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,” Bob Williams, chief executive of Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing, told The Post’s Thomas Heath. “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.”