Apr 30, 2014

    Sponsors drop Clippers to avoid racism backlash

    THE Los Angeles Clippers lost four sponsors and a half-dozen more suspended deals as the National Basketball Association (NBA) called a press conference to address racist comments attributed to team owner Donald Sterling on Monday.

    The NBA team's sponsorship revenue is worth as much as US$50 million (S$63 million) in the Los Angeles area, according to a league marketing expert.

    While the NBA said in a statement that it would discuss the investigation yesterday afternoon in New York, some companies did not wait to sever ties with the Clippers.

    Virgin America, CarMax, Mercedes-Benz and Chumash Casino Resort cut their sponsorships with the team, three days after the website TMZ posted the comments attributed to 80-year-old Sterling, which included remarks that he did not want his then girlfriend bringing black people to his games.

    State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance, Kia Motors, Yokohama Tire, Lumber Liquidators Holdings, Sprint and Los Angeles-based sports drink company AquaHydrate said they would suspend their sponsorship deals with the Clippers.

    "One, it offended their sense of decency and, two, it offended the sense of decency of their clientele, who are going to be pushing back on them," said William Sutton, a sports-marketing consultant who works with six NBA teams.

    Clippers sponsorship deals "could be as high as US$30 million to US$50 million in that market", Mr Sutton, the founding director of the University of South Florida's sport and entertainment Masters of Business Administration programme, said in a telephone interview.

    CarMax said it is ending a nine-year relationship with the Clippers and Kia Motors America said it is suspending its advertising and sponsorship activities with the club.

    "CarMax finds the statements attributed to the Clippers' owner completely unacceptable," the largest US auto dealer by market valuation said in a statement. "These views directly conflict with CarMax's culture of respect for all individuals."

    Kia Motors said in a statement that the comments attributed to Sterling were "offensive and reprehensible, and they are inconsistent with our views and values".