Would Gold Help Lochte Win the PR Game?


Todd Murphy Vice President Universal Information Services news monitoring and PR measurementBy Todd Murphy, Vice President, Universal Information Services

Stupid American

Lochte loses sponsorsBy now the world has learned that Ryan Lochte, US Olympic Swimmer, took great liberties with his story of being robbed in Rio. Our media measurement team has been analyzing the news mentions on a global level, and has one question to ask the media, “Would Lochte’s story have played differently if he had performed better at the Olympics?”

Aside from his gold medal as one of four members on the US relay team for the 4x200m, Lochte failed to medal in any of his 2016 Olympic swimming events. Once he was finished competing, he and three other Olympic swimmers spent a night on the town celebrating something… maybe the fact that it was over. Their celebration, according to the third and final story that emerged from other sources, was that in a drunken stupor Lochte and his buddies trashed a bathroom at a Rio de Janeiro gas station.

Being stupid is one mistake many are guilty of. Taking a lie public is an entirely different issue. Lochte went on camera to seemingly bask in an additional 15 seconds of fame for something unrelated to his skills as a swimmer. Recounting a false story of being ordered on the ground by masked bandits, Lochte claimed they held a gun to his head with a clear threat. Well, not really. He even answered tweets, thanking supporters for their prayers and well-wishes.

Would the Glitter of Gold help?

2016 Olympic Gold Medal SwimmingWithout detailing the limitations of the Lochte lie, let’s fast forward to where Lochte skips town for the US while the Rio police try to resolve reality and fiction. As you know, the truth came out within 48 hours. Lochte and and his crew of swimmers had made up the story and tried to payoff the damage they caused with $50. Now Lochte has no individual 2016 gold, has created an international incident, and reinforced an image Americans have worked hard to overcome when travelling abroad. Would his image today be any different had he performed better in the pool?

Sports fans have a history of forgiving those who perform well. But generally that forgiveness comes only after truth, accountability, and an apology. I’m thinking of Alexander Rodriguez of the NY Yankees versus Pete Rose, Manager of the Cincinnati Reds. A-Rod finished his career after a whopper of a lie, Pete Rose is banned for life and will never see the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Lochte stands to lose around $6 million dollars as key sponsors like Ralph Lauren and Speedo consider the situation. When we measure PR, looking at the outcomes of media mentions is one metric we have to calculate the impact. I can assure you Ralph Lauren and Speedo are considering their measures carefully. But would have the glitter of gold medals helped Lochte?

It seems that the global media has already done their job. Using our public relations tools to check the media mentions, we can see that Lochte has won the competition to receive the most negative news coverage. We looked at the top ten names associated with the 2016 Olympics, between 8/12/2016 and 8/18/2016, and in addition to have the the greatest percentage of negative stories, Lochte also eclipsed all other Olympians in terms of total media coverage. In other words, he create the most news for a bad reason.

A sponsored athlete has to cultivate, maintain, and hopefully enhance their image. Engaging in actions that reduce the admiration the public has for a sponsored athlete is counter to what the sponsors want. We’ll continue to watch how this plays out for Ryan Lochte. But it is already written in stone that he has damaged the image of the U.S. citizen and potentially tarnished an otherwise outstanding performance from Team USA at the 2016 Olympics.

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