Athletes can be incredibly marketable people. The top sportsmen and women in the most popular sports can receive tens of millions a year from single sponsors for endorsing their products. A number of athletes today now make more money through endorsement deals than they do through their team contracts or athletic/sporting accomplishments. Given that athletes can be so important to brands, they are often reluctant to drop them.
Here however, is a list of 15 examples in which that was not the case. The athletes on this list were all dropped by one or more sponsors following some form of controversy or scandal. There are a couple of reasons why a sponsor might drop an athlete; one is that they are genuinely disgusted/appalled by something an individual has done, and the other more cynical but perhaps more likely reason, is that the athletes name has been dragged through the mud to such an extent that it is no longer beneficial to be endorsed by them.
Offenses featured here range from murder to social media mishaps, while one was barely the fault of the athlete at all. The list includes some of the most prominent and recognizable athletes on the planet from recent decades, including world heavyweight champions, all-time MLB record holders and Champions League winners. Here are the top 15 athletes who were dropped by their sponsors following controversies:
15. Floyd Landis
Originally the 2006 Tour de France champion, who was later stripped of such a title, Floyd Landis was an exceptional all-round cyclist who raced professionally between 1999 and 2010. When Landis finally pleaded guilty to the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in 2010, he lost more than just his 2006 Tour de France, he also lost his $3 million sponsorship deal with Phonak, a number of other sponsors, and failed to secure a team for 2011, ending his cycling career.
14. Rashard Mendenhall
Former Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall was a Super Bowl champion in 2009 but was making headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2011 following Barack Obama’s announcement that U.S. Navy SEALs had killed Osama Bin Laden. Mendenhall took to Twitter, with tweets such as “It’s amazing how people can hate a man they have never even heard speak,” and, “We’ve only heard one side.” Mendenhall was even criticized for giving credence to 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and despite quickly apologizing, he was dropped by his most prominent sponsor Champion.
13. Magic Johnson
Five-time NBA champion Magic Johnson lost his major endorsement deals with Converse and Pepsi when he revealed that he had tested positive for HIV in 1991. The 6-foot-9 point guard who spent his entire career with the L.A. Lakers, as well as starring for the 1992 gold medal winning U.S. Dream Team, first retired following the announcement, but later made a brief return to basketball. Despite the early controversy, Magic Johnson is now widely regarded as an American hero and was even cited by Barack Obama as a hero of his. Since his retirement he has become a major advocate of safe sex.
12. Michael Vick
Current free agent and former quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers, Michael Vick is a four-time Pro Bowl pick. His career came crashing down in 2007 when he was found guilty of being a major figure in a dog fighting ring which had taken place on his property. Vick pleaded guilty to being complicit in the dog fighting, as well as hanging and drowning dogs who did not perform well. He served 21 months in prison, losing all his major endorsement deals, most notably with Nike and Rawling, and he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2008.
11. Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson was a Canadian hero and one of the most recognizable men in athletics following his success at the 1998 Olympic Games, where he won gold and set a 100 meters world record. However, the Jamaican-born athlete went from hero to zero in the space of three days, when the Olympic Doping Control Center discovered Johnson’s blood and urine samples contained stanozolol, an anabolic steroid and banned substance. He was stripped of his gold medal and world record, as well as his $2.8 million sponsorship deal with Italian sportswear brand Diadora.
10. Adrian Peterson
A seven-time Pro Bowl select and the 2012 NFL MVP, Adrian Peterson is the sixth fastest player in history to reach 8,000 running yards and the first freshman to ever finish as a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. As one of the biggest names in the NFL, it took a few days for Peterson’s sponsors to finally give in and drop the running back. He was indicted for child abuse, and when the Vikings re-instated him despite this, Radisson Hotels severed all ties with the team. Castrol, Nike and Mylan soon followed suit, ending their endorsement deals. Aged 31, Peterson still plays for the Vikings.
9. Wayne Rooney
On the pitch, 2010 was Wayne Rooney’s finest year in terms of individual achievement. He scored 34 goals in 44 games for Manchester United, picking up the clubs player of the year award, the Premier League’s Players’ Player of the Year, Fans Player of the Year and the FWA Player of the Year. Off the pitch, it was a different story. He was the fourth most marketable footballer on the planet when allegations of infidelity circulated in 2010. Coca-Cola dropped the England captain, claiming they were “disgusted”, Tiger Beer dropped him at the same time, while Nike stood by the forward.
8. Oscar Pistorius
His incredible back story, good looks and athletic achievements made Oscar Pistorius a prime candidate for lucrative endorsement deals. The first athlete to compete in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Pistorius won six Paralympic gold medals at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 games. On Valentine’s Day 2013, Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend and model Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius claimed he believed she was an intruder hiding in the bathroom; he was found guilty of culpable homicide and is currently on trial for a far lengthier murder conviction. Pistorius lost major endorsement deals, most notably with Nike and Oakley, totaling around $2 million a year.
7. Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova is believed to be the wealthiest female athlete on the planet, with an estimated net worth somewhere between $125-175 million. The 17-year-old Wimbledon champion, the youngest winner in the tournaments history, became extremely marketable from a young age. A superb player, Sharapova is also very attractive, and as a Russian who has lived in the U.S. since the age of 7, she has an even more global appeal.
She has been the best paid female athlete in the world for 11 consecutive years, but could see her income fall dramatically following her failed drugs test earlier this year. Sharapova has lost had major endorsement deals with Nike and Ted Heuer, while Head have stuck by her.
6. Kobe Bryant
With an estimated net worth of $320 million, it’s fair to say that the scandals involving Kobe Bryant haven’t hit him too hard, but one threatened to do so back in 2003. The 1996 draft and five-time NBA champion was arrested in 2003 following complaints by a 19-year-old hotel employee that she had been sexually assaulted by the L.A. Lakers star. Bryant admitted to sleeping with the girl but denied that it was non-consensual.
The pair later reached an out-of-court settlement, in which Bryant claimed he now understood how the girl felt that she did not consent. Bryant lost endorsement deals with McDonald’s and Nutella as a result of the incident, but retained his links with Sprite and Nike.
5. Manny Pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao was the second highest paid athlete in the world in 2015 according to Forbes, and has a net worth estimated to be $190 million. The eight-division world champion is unlikely to rank quite so highly in 2016 though, having lost his much-anticipated bout with Floyd Mayweather last year, before describing homosexuals as being “worse than animals”. Nike ended their association with the boxer, describing his comments as “abhorrent”, and Pacquiao is currently in the process of replacing Nike’s sponsorship with that of a new sports brand.
4. Barry Bonds
One of the greatest baseball players to ever live, Barry Bonds is a seven-time MVP, 14-time All-Star select and the all time MLB home run record holder. As such, it is not surprise that the former Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco Giants star had a number of big-money endorsement deals. However, the Olympic bronze medalist became a major part of the 2007 baseball steroids scandal. He admitted to the accidental use of performance-enhancing drugs in 2004, but was found guilty of obstructing justice.
Bonds served a month under house arrest and retired from the sport the same year. The likes of KFC, MasterCard and Charles Swab all dropped Bonds, who lost an estimated $28 million that year.
3. Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson is the youngest heavyweight world champion of all time, and in his prime, one of the most feared. Iron Mike was renowned for the destruction in his punches in the early part of his career, before hitting self-destruct and seeing his career crumble. The Brooklyn-born big-hitter was never far from controversy, and in 1988 when his ex-wife revealed that Tyson used to abuse her, the fighter was dropped by Pepsi and others, losing deals worth a reported $10 million a year. Tyson had later controversies including being convicted of raping an 18-year-old girl in 1992 and biting off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear in 1997.
2. Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996, only to recover and be cycling again in 1998, before winning a remarkable seven consecutive Tour de France titles. What’s more, the road cyclist then founded the Lance Armstrong (now the Livestrong) Foundation, raising hundreds of million for those affected by cancer. As such, Armstrong was a hero and an inspiration to many, which made his doping scandal more saddening, shocking and personal to a lot of people.
Allegations of Armstrong and other cyclists doping can be traced all the way back to his 1999 Tour de France victory, and the never actually went away, but it was only in 2012 when the USADA said Armstrong had used performance-enhancing drugs that the cyclist could no longer sweep such claims under the carpet. In January 2013 he admitted to doping and was stripped of all post-1998 successes. He lost almost all of his endorsement deals, most notably with the likes of Nike, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Trek Bicycle Corp, FRS and Honey Stinger.
1. Tiger Woods
One of the finest golfers of all time, with a net worth of $700 million, it is unlikely Tiger Woods will run into serious financial trouble anytime soon. However, even that incredible figure could have been a great deal higher had the golfer not been the center of a very public cheating scandal. So marketable and important to his sponsors was Woods that no endorsement deals were lost when it emerged his wife had smashed his car window with a golf club due to him cheating on her.
A month later though, when the true extent of Woods’ infidelity became clear, the endorsement deals began to fall away. Gargantuan deals with the likes of Gillette, Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade and Tag Heuer were all lost, while Woods’ $20 million-a-year deal with Nike was slashed in half for two years. The incident also effected Woods’ golfing career, where he had once seen levels of dominance unparalleled in the history of the sport.
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