Coca-Cola suddenly has a hole in its Olympic marketing plans after it was confirmed today that Jordan Spieth is sitting out the Rio games because of apparent concerns about the Zika virus.
Mr. Spieth's exit was made official by International Golf Federation President Peter Dawson. The golfer cited "health reasons," according to the Associated Press. Other big-name golfers that have previously said they are sitting out the games include Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy. They cited Zika concerns, according to AP.
Mr. Spieth was among several athletes that Coke planned to make as faces of the brand throughout the games. As part of Coke's "six pack" of athletes, he was slated to be featured prominently in Olympic marketing, including packaging, retail and digital advertising, according to a description of the program published last year. He was added to Coke's Olympic roster after signing a multiyear endorsement deal with the brand in January.
"As a member of the Coca-Cola family, we support and respect Jordan's decision," a Coca-Cola spokeswoman said today in an emailed statement. "We wish him the very best of luck in the remainder of the PGA Tour season and beyond."
Coke was able to stop packaging featuring Mr. Spieth so it will not appear in market, the spokeswoman said. But the company does not plan to pull material already produced, including point-of-sale signage, so there is a chance that consumers might encounter Olympic materials showing Mr. Spieth. The golfer remains a significant part of Coke's broader marketing plans. He is featured in a TV ad that recently began airing.
Mr. Spieth signaled he was concerned about the Zika virus in June when stated that "I think being an Olympian is just an absolute tremendous honor. Do I think being an Olympian outweighs any significant health threat? No. If I thought that the threat was significant, I certainly would not go." At the time, Coca-Cola expressed optimism that he would go to Rio. "At this point we are confident. I can't speak to [Mr. Spieth's] personal feeling, but we feel good about it," Peggy Loos, VP of connections activation for Coca-Cola North America, said in an interview in mid-June.
Golf, of course, is not as closely linked to the Olympics as say, swimming, gymnastics and track and field. For stars in those sports, the Olympics can be a once-in-a-lifetime endorsement opportunity. Golfers, on the other hand, have less to lose financially by bypassing Rio. The sport was made an Olympic event this year after a 112-year absence. This month the golfing world is fixated on the British Open, which begins Thursday.
The other athletes on brand Coke's Olympic roster that was announced late last year include soccer star Alex Morgan, swimmer Nathan Adrian and decathlete Ashton Eaton. Track athlete Leo Manzano is also on the list, but he failed to make the U.S. team in the 1,500-meter. However, the Mexican-American star will still be featured on Coke's Olympic packaging, a spokeswoman confirmed today.
Also endorsing Coke is Nastia Liukin, the former Olympic gymnast, who is serving as an analyst for NBC during the Rio games. Coke also has a deal with Paralympian Tatyana McFadden.
Coke is expected to launch its full Olympic campaign soon.