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February 18, 2013

Pistorius Pulls Out of Major Races; Sponsor Pulls Ads

by Anita Powell

South Africa Olympian Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial could take months, but the court of public opinion ruled within a day. One of his major South African sponsors pulled a campaign featuring the running superstar just hours after Pistorius’ girlfriend was found shot dead at his home. His agent announced the runner would be canceling all future races. Other sponsors have been careful to not say what they plan to do. But if the fates of other fallen athletes are any indication, Pistorius’ financial prospects are grim.
 
Among the crowd that squeezed itself into a packed courthouse for Oscar Pistorius’ initial hearing Friday was one silver-haired man who stared pensively ahead.
 
That may have been because of all the people in that room, he might be the one with the second biggest amount to lose.
 
It was Pistorius’ agent, Peet van Zyl.
 
On Sunday, van Zyl said Pistorius would be dropping out of five races scheduled through late May in Australia, the United States, Brazil and Britain. Those races were expected to help Pistorius get in peak physical shape for the world championships in August.
 
Van Zyl refused to discuss Pistorius’ state of mind after he visited him late Sunday in his cell at a Pretoria police station. But he said the runner - who rose to fame for his incredible athletic feats as a double amputee - still has lots of supporters.
 
“I can tell you that we have had overwhelming support for Oscar from a lot of fans on a global scale, really on a global scale. South African fans, international fans, from literally all over the world. He knows it. I have given him that message. Obviously, from a management side and also as a friend, it’s tragic circumstances and events that have unfolded and we can only give Oscar our support at this point in time.”
 
Van Zyl said most of Pistorius’ sponsors are sticking with him and waiting for the legal process to continue.
 
Pistorius is the world’s highest paid Paralympic athlete. Most of his income comes from lucrative sponsorships, including deals with Nike, sunglasses brand Oakley, and fashion designer Thierry Mugler, which gave him a perfume deal. He’s reportedly made $4.7 million dollars in such deals.
 
One exception is South African satellite provider M-Net, which acted within hours of the news, announcing on Twitter that it would pull its entire campaign “out of respect and sympathy to the bereaved.”
 
Workers around Johannesburg were seen Thursday tearing down M-Net billboards featuring Pistorius’ face.
 
A representative of Nike, the runner’s most prominent sponsor, refused to comment on the company’s plans. South Africa-based spokeswoman Seruscka Naidoo said “as the incident is a police matter, Nike will not comment further at this time.”
 
Other sports figures have lost deals in the wake of scandals. Most similar to Pistorius’ case was that of American football player OJ Simpson, who lost his lucrative ad deals after being charged with murdering his ex-wife. The sponsors did not come back after he was acquitted in 1995.
 
American cyclist Lance Armstrong lost many of his sponsors after admitting to doping and losing his seven Tour de France titles.
 
And golfer Tiger Woods was dropped in 2009 by many of his sponsors amid allegations he cheated on his wife.

Additional reporting by Peter Cox in Pretoria