Ray Rice and 11 other athletes who lost their endorsements
Video footage of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancé out of a casino elevator came to light in February, but it took most sponsors until this month, when new film emerged showing what happened inside the elevator, to take action. Now, as the NFL deals with a major crisis and two of its biggest stars have seen their brands collapse, Fortune looks back at Rice and 11 other big-name athletes who lost endorsement deals due to scandal. Here’s the hall of shame.
In Rice's case, Vertimax, a sports equipment company, was the first to defect. It quietly dropped him in June after having initially said in February that it would wait and see. A couple of weeks ago, TMZ released video of Rice hitting his fiancé. It set off the floodgates. Dick’s Sporting Goods and Modell’s pulled his jerseys from stores. The next day, Nike said it would end its endorsement, and EA Sports said it would scrub Rice from the Madden NFL 15 video game. Rice reportedly has no remaining active endorsement deals.
As with Rice’s case, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s saga played out over a few days - reminding us it takes a while for sponsors to jump ship. Peterson was indicted for child abuse on September 12, a Friday. Within 30 minutes, his team had deactivated him for Sunday’s game, although it quickly changed its mind. That same night, a second case of child abuse came to light. Radisson Hotels (whose logo was all over the backdrop when Vikings owners announced the team would reinstate Peterson) quickly ended its team sponsorship with the Vikings. Within the next couple of days, both Castrol Oil, Nike and pharmaceutical company Mylan cut their ties. Wheaties removed boxes with Peterson's face from store shelves - but said it was not because of the charges. One Vikings sponsor that has not pulled out is Verizon, though on Thursday the company’s CEO put a long statement on LinkedIn expressing concern over the league’s current problems.
Along with Rice and Peterson, Michael Vick is one of few than 10 athletes that Nike has ever dropped. The Swoosh has a history of standing by its athletes, but crimes (assault, child abuse, dog-fighting) clearly trump personal scandals. The Atlanta Falcons quarterback (at the time) was indicted for running a dogfighting ring. Two days after the indictment, Nike canceled its new Vick shoe, but did not pull existing Vick products from shelves. In the next 10 days, Reebok, Rawlings, Donruss, Upper Deck and AirTran Airways all ended their relationships with Vick. Eventually, Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Vick indefinitely from the league. But Vick’s storyline improved. In 2009, after serving jail time, he returned to the NFL, and in 2011, rarest of all, Nike welcomed him back with a new endorsement contract, saying that the athlete had owned up to his “past mistakes.”
Lance Armstrong didn't just lose seven Tour de France jerseys after the news broke in 2012 that he had been taking performance-enhancing drugs. He also lost lucrative sponsorships with Nike, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Trek Bicycle Corp, FRS and Honey Stinger, among others. And it took less than a week for the companies to do it. "Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him," Nike said in a statement.
Tiger Woods's fall from grace was so public that it has become a standard example for athletes about what not to do. Experts also say the episode led sponsors to beef up the morals clauses in their athlete contracts. On Thanksgiving weekend in 2009, the first hints of the Woods scandal broke - that the pro golfer had been in a mild car accident in his home's driveway and that his wife smashed a window with a golf club. It took weeks for the full truth to come out—that Woods had cheated on his wife with scores of women. Sponsors didn’t begin leaving Woods until he broke his silence nearly a month later when he announced he’d take a break from his sport. Gillette, Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade and Tag Heuer soon ended their endorsements. Nike stuck by him, but as Fortune learned in 2011, it slashed the value of his $20 million-per-year deal in half for two years as a punishment. These days, Woods has a smaller portfolio of deals (still lucrative enough to crack the top ten of our Fortunate 50 list) with Nike, Rolex, Japanese heat-rub Kowa, and Asian wristband-maker All Custom Focus.
The all-time home run king Barry Bonds became a key figure in baseball’s steroids scandal in 2007, causing sponsors like MasterCard, KFC and Charles Schwab to cancel their endorsements. All told, Sports Illustrated reported that he lost an estimated $28 million a year in contracts. He ended his career that same year. Bonds told a grand jury that he used performance-enhancing drugs without knowing in 2004, but he was found to have obstructed justice. Bonds served one-month under house-arrest.
After the boxer’s former wife Robin Givens said in 1988 that he abused her, Mike Tyson lost millions in endorsement money from Pepsi. Over the next four months, other sponsors left, costing the heavyweight boxing champion a reported $8 to $10 million that year. He lost a deal with Eastman Kodak and a $750,000 contract with Nintendo to promote his boxing game “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!!” (By 1989 the video game maker had renamed it “Punch-Out!!!”) Problems continued to pile on for Tyson after he was found guilty of raping an 18-year-old in 1992 and spent three years in prison.
After allegedly cheating on his pregnant wife with prostitutes, Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney saw the endorsements slip away. His biggest loss was Coca-Cola, whose U.S. executives reportedly said they were “disgusted.” But they did not end the contract until it expired in 2010. Around the same time, the soccer star also lost a deal with Asian beer brand Tiger to do commercial work. He did hold on to his deals with Nike and EA Sports.
Basketball star Kobe Bryant's image took a big hit in 2003 after a woman accused him of sexual assault. McDonald’s subsequently decided not to renew the hoops star’s three-year endorsement deal. Ultimately, authorities dropped the charges against Bryant after he reached a private settlement with the accuser. Endorsements with Sprite and Nike never ended. But one with Italian chocolate maker Ferrero SpA did. At the time, many predicted that Bryant’s clean image had been permanently tarnished. But Kobe’s endorsements soon got back on track—he signed lucrative deals with Nike, Lenovo, and Turkish Airlines. Fortune reported this summer that Bryant raked in about $20 million in endorsements in 2013 making him No. 3 on our 2014 Fortunate 50 list, up a spot from the year before.
Owner of the most Olympic gold medals in history, Phelps found himself in hot water after a photo emerged in 2008 of him smoking a bong at a party. Although he was suspended from competition for three months, he only lost a sponsorship with Kellogg's, which chose not to renew its contract. (Because its deal was going to expire at that time anyway, Phelps’s agent at Octagon, Drew Johnson, has argued to Fortune that it isn’t fair to say the brand “dropped” him.) The other mega brands behind the swimmer, like Speedo, Visa, Omega watches and Subway, all stood by him.
After President Obama announced in 2011 that US armed forces had killed Osama bin Laden, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall sent out a flurry of tweets he would come to regret. Mendenhall, who retired this year, scolded those who celebrated bin Laden’s death. “It's amazing how people can hate a man they have never even heard speak," he said. "We've only heard one side,” he tweeted. Three days later, his most prominent sponsor, Champion, dropped its deal with him. A few months later, Mendenhall took action of his own by suing Hanesbrands, which owns Champion, for $1 million, the amount left on his contract. In the end, the two parties reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount.