Lochte 'Radioactive' for Sponsors -- at Least for Now

Speedo, Ralph Lauren Watch Olympian's Woes From Sidelines

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In an apology posted on social media on Friday, Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte tried to control the damage caused by his discredited tale of getting robbed at gunpoint in Rio. But his image as an endorser might be irreparable, at least in the short term. And for most Olympians, time is of the essence when trying to strike deals in the wake of the games.

Ryan Lochte
Ryan Lochte  Credit: Speedo via SpeedoInternational via YouTube

"Olympians in general have a shelf life of a couple of months, pre and post the Olympics, and then everyone forgets all about them until the next Olympics," said Darren Marshall, executive VP at sports marketing agency Revolution. "Lochte just blew his window. He's radioactive now."

That said, "In four years' time, if he wins multiple golds, all this will be forgotten and someone will use him," noted Mr. Marshall.

Mr. Lochte has been drowning in controversy since Brazilian police alleged he fabricated a story about being robbed at gunpoint at a gas station along with three swimming teammates. Authorities said the men were drunk, damaged a bathroom and were confronted by security guards. On Friday morning, Mr. Lochte apologized "for not being more careful and candid," in an Instagram post. He added that "it's traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country—with a language barrier—and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave."

A Speedo spokeswoman said the marketer "is following the situation, and has a policy not to comment on ongoing legal investigations." A Ralph Lauren spokeswoman said "we are working closely with the USOC on the developments in Rio and are reviewing the situation." The most positive response came from Motokuni Takaoka, the CEO of Japanese mattress manufacturer Airweave, who told Bloomberg News, "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."

USA Swimming has featured Mr. Lochte in social posts and videos that remain online. "Those will continue," said Matt Farrell, the organization's chief marketing officer. But "we don't have immediate plans for new collateral at this point."

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