When I spoke to sports marketers earlier this week, they said Michael Phelps needed to put his face out there in response to last weekend’s bong photo and not hide behind a statement. Wednesday, he spoke to the press for the first time since the photo’s publication and Thursday afternoon he appeared before WBAL’s television cameras.
But now, another setback. Apparently Kellogg Co. doesn’t want anything to do with that face, as it announced Thursday night it would let its contract with the Olympian expire at the end of this month.
Phelp’s management team issued a statement in response:
“Michael accepts these decisions and understands their point of view,” the statement issued by Octagon said. “He feels bad he let anyone down. He’s also encouraged by the thousands of comments he’s received from his fans and the support from his many sponsors. He intends to work hard to regain everyone’s trust.”
Many people (fans or otherwise) have said Phelps is a 23-year-old who used poor judgment — it’s not the first or last time someone his age has done that. I get that, and I suspect on some level even Kellogg’s gets that too.
But the marketers I spoke to noted that while Phelps is only human, his sponsors have paid money for his wholesome, hard-worker image. Last weekend’s photo is a blow to that image his sponsors weren’t anticipating, as with they might with other athletes (party boys Matt Leinart and Bode Miller come to mind).
There’s a reason Kellogg’s, a very family-oriented brand, signs athletes like Phelps and doesn’t sign ones like Miller or Leinart. This is a business decision and the cereal maker is looking out for itself.
Do you agree with Kellogg’s backing out? Will there be more sponsors to follow?
LIZ FARMER, Business Writer