NEW YORK — Talk about bad timing.
Right about now, gold medalist and swimmer Ryan Lochte could be capitalizing on the endorsement deals and publicity that typically greet Olympians when they return to the U.S.
Instead, the 32-year-old is embroiled in a potential scandal about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio, and possibly lying about it.
If he did lie, that could hurt his ability to land new sponsorships.
Even without a scandal, Lochte went to Rio with fewer sponsors than he had in London, when he was endorsed by companies like Gatorade, Nissan, Mutual of Omaha and P&G.
The 12-time Olympic medalist is currently sponsored by Speedo, Airweave and Polo Ralph Lauren.
Speedo released this statement about Lochte: “Speedo is a sponsor of Ryan Lochte (USA). Speedo is following the situation, and has a policy not to comment on ongoing legal investigations. We suggest you contact his team for additional information.”
Polo said it was working closely with the U.S. Olympic Committee and would review the situation.
The other companies have yet to comment on the incident.
Lochte’s endorsement deals may have been hurt by the fact that his teammate Michael Phelps stole some of his thunder when he came out of retirement to go to Rio and hinted that this could be his last Olympics.
If Phelps really is done, now would be the time for Lochte to step into the spotlight and win new sponsors as one of the top swimmers on the U.S. men’s team.
But this scandal could make that transition a lot harder for Lochte to pull off, since one of the most important things potential sponsors look for is a clean public image.
For Lochte, picking up endorsements isn’t just about prestige — sponsor funding will be key if he wants to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Even if he decides to retire, a scandal could hurt his ability to market himself outside of the pool.
What’s key for Lochte now is whether he responds to this incident with remorse or defiance — advertisers will of course want to see him as nothing but contrite.
His teammate Phelps was in a similar spot when a photo of him smoking a bong surfaced and he was then charged with DUI. He initially lost sponsors, but he won new ones after going to rehab and appearing sorry for his actions.