Speedo has dropped its sponsorship of swimmer Ryan Lochte, the first major company to do so after the athlete admitted lying about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro. Saying it did not condone behavior contradictory to its values, the swimsuit maker pledged to donate $50,000 from Lochte’s sponsorship fee to Save the Children. For brands, the scandal makes clear that sponsoring athletes, while potentially beneficial, also has inherent risks.
Brand ambassadors like Lochte provide a site traffic boost for Speedo, which earns a ranking of Average in L2’s Digital IQ Index: Activewear. The brand site includes extensive ambassador-related content, from short videos and biographies to live Twitter and Instagram feeds and custom Spotify playlists.
This is a common strategy: 60% of Activewear brands dedicate a section of their site to brand ambassadors, according to the study. Nearly all of them include short biographies, while about half have dedicated video content and link directly to the ambassadors’ social media accounts. A handful even integrate guided selling tools, such as Timberland’s shoppable Instagram feeds curated by the brand’s “Markmakers.”
However, relying on ambassadors to drive traffic also has its risks. For Under Armour, those risks have paid off as endorsed athletes including Misty Copeland and Stephen Curry continue to deliver impressive performances. But for Speedo, the Olympics results were not so golden. In addition to causing the robbery controversy, Lochte won no individual medals in Rio, and the brand’s other two top-promoted athletes performed similarly, with Missy Franklin failing to medal and Cullen Jones not included on the team. Perhaps the swimsuit maker might consider redirecting some of its sponsorship investments towards other digital initiatives, such as implementing a tablet-optimized site or incorporating video creatives.