Tiger Woods’ personal life went off the rails. Lance Armstrong’s sporting image crashed in drugs. Both were sponsored by Nike in multi-million dollar deals. This time it’s Oscar Pistorius whose life has moved from sports headlines to the news pages to cause headaches at Nike headquarters.
Nike has already begun to pull advertisements of Oscar Pistorius after he was formally charged with the murder of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.
Given the tragic events in Pretoria, the ‘Blade Runner’s’ pre-Olympic advertising campaign seems particularly unsettling as it had the tag-line: “I am the bullet in the chamber.”
Nike released a statement after the charge saying: “Nike extends its deepest sympathy and condolences to all families concerned following this tragic incident. As it is a police matter, Nike will not comment further at this time.”
It is a difficult situation for the US sporting goods giant, who has seen some of their most highly-profiled endorsed athletes get into trouble before.
Here are some of their other clients (or former clients, in some cases) that have caused them major headaches.
Nike ended their long-term relationship with the disgraced cyclist in October last year due to “seemingly insurmountable evidence” that he participated in doping, although they continue to support the Livestrong cancer charity that Armstrong was formally chairman of. Nike still sells a whopping 98 products in the US market that bares the Livestrong name.
Armstrong finally admitted to doping in an interview with Oprah Winfrey last month, while Nike CEO Phil Knight said “never say never” just before the admission when asked if they would sponsor Armstrong again at some stage in the future.
When Tiger Woods was rocked by a sex scandal in 2009, Knight said it was “part of the game” in signing endorsement deals with athletes. Woods admitted to infidelity in his marriage to Swedish wife Elin Nordegren as allegations of multiple extra-marital affairs rocked his life and career. Knight had said that Nike checked out Woods’s background before signing its deal with the golfer and “he came out clean”.
“I think he’s (Tiger) been really great. When his career is over, you’ll look back on these indiscretions as a minor blip, but the media is making a big deal out of it right now,” said the Nike chief.
Last month, golfer Rory McIlroy signed a $250m (£156m) 10-year deal with Nike, and has already appeared in an advertisement with Woods. The company will hope that he does not appear on a list similar to this one in the future.
In 2003, the basketball star signed a five-year deal with Nike worth a reported $40m. Just days later, he was arrested in connection with an alleged sexual assault, as a 19-year-old woman accused him of rape.
The married Bryant admitted to sleeping with the girl but said the sex was consensual. The case was later dropped, but it certainly affected his brand.
A string of companies including McDonald’s and Nutella terminated their deals with him, but Nike remained loyal, although they refused to use his image or market his shoe for two years until his brand recovered. Now the company markets an entire ‘Kobe Bryant collection.’
The American sprinter endorsed the swoosh logo as she won five medals at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. However, Jones was stripped of her 100m, 200m and 4x400m golds and long jump and 4x100m bronze medals in 2007 for using banned drugs.
Jones even served a jail sentence for lying to federal prosecutors about her steroid use.
Nike were somewhat lucky when it came to Jones as her contract ran out in 2005, just when the scandal was blowing up. Needless to say, the company decided against renewing.
Many of Nike’s catalogue of footballers have got into trouble in the past with Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney, Franck Ribery, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Mario Balotelli just a selection of their roster that have garnered unwanted headlines in recent years.
The sprinter won 100m gold in Athens 2004, but was later banned for four years for doping. He was the first athlete to have a contract terminated by Nike.
Gatlin has since returned to the sport, and he completed his comeback by clinching the bronze medal at the London Olympics. He also has deals with watch brand Deuce, and Chinese sportswear company Xtep.