Between swimmer Ryan Lochte and soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo, the U.S. didn’t make many friends at last month’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. But for all their damage on a global stage, the lingering question is: Who torched their career and earnings potential the most?
Inside sports business
One lied to Mom, the American public and infuriated Brazil by needlessly adding to worldwide scrutiny of its crime problems.
Between swimmer Ryan Lochte and soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo, the United States didn’t make many friends at the Olympic Games last month in Rio de Janeiro. But for all their damage on a global stage, the lingering question is: Who torched their career and earnings potential the most?
That competition could prove closer than one of Lochte’s gold-medal finishes, or the penalty-kick round in which Sweden sent Solo’s crew packing.
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Lochte, with a reported endorsement-driven net worth of $6.2 million, lost all major sponsors — Speedo, Ralph Lauren, Airweave and Syneron Candela — after concocting an armed-robbery story to cover up drunken antics by him and fellow U.S. swimmers. Solo, whose net worth last year was pegged at $2.5 million, was suspended six months by U.S. Soccer, had her contract terminated and last week took a leave from the Seattle Reign.
Sure, Lochte, at 32, has three additional years on Solo, 35, to resurrect his image. But when considering the nature of their dueling transgressions, things quickly even out.
“He appears to have lied, whereas Hope Solo appears to have called names,” said one-time Oregon-based marketing executive Rick Burton, now a sports-management professor at Syracuse University. “And usually, when you’re dealing with your children, lying gets a harsher punishment than name-calling.”
Indeed, ask cyclist Lance Armstrong, golfer Tiger Woods, former sprinter Marion Jones or ex-baseball manager Tim Johnson. Once the public perceives you have lied — whether about doping, cheating on spouses or serving in Vietnam — finding forgiveness can prove tougher than for athletes charged with violent crimes.
Speaking of which, a violent crime is exactly what Solo soon will stand trial for: domestic violence against her nephew, then 17, in a June 2014 incident at her half-sister’s home in Kirkland.
Lochte’s pre-Rio legal woes weren’t as serious. He was cited for disorderly conduct in 2010 and public urination — apparently a recurring theme — in 2005.
But not to be outdone by Solo, whose drunken escapades with her husband, former Seahawks and Huskies tight end Jerramy Stevens, have resulted in multiple police encounters, Lochte also has had cringe-worthy family moments. He has been criticized for allowing his parents’ Florida home to be foreclosed upon in 2013 over a $240,000 debt despite his endorsement wealth.
And there’s the lie he told his mother, Ileana, in Rio — that he and swim teammates were robbed at gunpoint while returning from an after-hours party. She repeated that to the media, sparking a police investigation and international scandal.
Only after repeating his robbery story to Rio police and NBC anchor Matt Lauer did Lochte later admit he “over-exaggerated” — that the guns were pulled by security guards at a gas station where the swimmers stopped to urinate on a side wall. The guards claimed the gas station had been vandalized and apparently had held the swimmers until they paid compensation.
Everybody from Brazil’s police to NBC weatherman Al Roker has since blasted Lochte.
Burton, a former chief marketing officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) — handling its sponsorships and partner relations through the 2008 Beijing Games — said Lochte already faced a struggle in emerging from the shadow of Michael Phelps. Now, with no upcoming Olympic or spotlight swimming events, he said Lochte, more than Solo, risks being forever associated with his blunder.
“Both of them are going to have a hard time getting new endorsements or perhaps renewing old endorsements, but Hope Solo I think can come back and play her sport professionally and get paid,” Burton said. “And I think that Lochte probably will have a harder time getting paid as an athlete or taking away endorsements.”
New York-based crisis-management consultant Richard Torrenzano agrees Lochte dug the deeper hole.
“He lied and then repeatedly lied on an international stage,” said Torrenzano, who runs The Torrenzano Group, which counsels companies on brand and reputation building. “And then lied to the media as well following a lie he had told to the police.”
Torrenzano added: “Lying is a very deep emotion within a lot of people. Remember, our country is built on trust. So when you lie, that trust is broken.”
He says trust, honesty and “Olympic values” of sportsmanship and fairness are what corporate sponsors seek. And nowadays, they’re quicker to drop athletes betraying those ideals.
Torrenzano said Solo’s earnings potential is pretty much done given her age and compilation of missteps. He says Lochte also will be forever “haunted” by this but might repair some damage by offering a more sincere admission and apology.
Rene Henry, a Seattle-based author and sports marketing and media adviser who worked on the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic bid and George Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign, agrees that Lochte should have set things straight sooner. He can’t believe how poorly both athletes handled themselves once scandals erupted and that neither, especially Lochte, had an agent or spokesperson help clear the air.
“Whenever you have a crisis, the first thing you do is get everything out immediately,” Henry said. “Never lie, always tell the truth and tell the whole truth. If somebody lies, when can you trust and know whether they’re ever going to tell the truth again?”
Henry said he’s all for free speech but added that Solo showed incredibly poor judgment.
“Both should have known better,” he said. “They’ve been there and done that many times over. Not only in the Olympics, but World Cup and world championship events.”
And lasting damage?
“Lochte sounded dumb and screwed up,” he said. “But Solo sounded angry.”
So which plays better in the corporate world?
“Sometimes, dumb,” he replied.
Solo no longer had Lochte’s level of sponsors to lose, most having bailed following her domestic-violence arrest.
Cameras filming Solo for the “Keeping Score” docuseries caught her angrily reacting to her suspension, a clip that recently went viral.
As for Lochte, who unlike Solo is still awaiting word on a possible suspension, he has agreed to appear on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
Syracuse professor Burton says if Lochte dances well, he might revise his prediction that the swimmer has torched his career worse than Solo — who appeared on the show in 2011 and no longer has that as a publicity option.
“If he lasts seven episodes on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ he’s going to have huge visibility,” Burton said. “Whereas she’s not really going to have much of anything.”
In other words, this battle of gas-lighters might be headed to overtime.