Olympic athletes are wondering what impact the U.S. Olympic Committee's multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal with BP could have on their future, given the continued bad news coming from the Gulf Coast oil spill.
American athletes receive money from the USOC, some of which comes via the BP sponsorship. The oil company signed a deal with the USOC in February worth between $10 million and $15 million, which represents about 6 percent to 7 percent of the federation's sponsorship revenue.
The London 2012 Olympic organizing committee also has a deal with BP, valued at around $58 million. And next weekend's all-Chicago baseball series between the Cubs and White Sox is sponsored by BP.
In an era where big companies pull back on deals with athletes because of their behavior — see Tiger Woods — the benefactors of BP's millions are not telegraphing any moves to turn the tables. In interviews with The Associated Press, they did not acknowledge any risks that could go along with holding onto the BP partnership. Nor would they directly answer when asked if any thought had been given to parting ways.
Agent Evan Morgenstein said he has received a number of calls from athletes he represents who are concerned about the connections. Among Morgenstein's clients are Olympic swimmers Dara Torres, Amanda Beard, Aaron Peirsol and Eric Shanteau, though Morgenstein would not divulge which athletes were contacting him about BP.
"In the end, it's not about the $15 million," Morgenstein said. "It's about the brand. They (in the Olympic movement) talk about branding all the time and the value of the rings. If they're not starting to get the feeling that the rings are covered in oil, then they should wait a while and do nothing. Then, trust me, the rings will be soaked in oil."
The Cubs and White Sox will play for the "BP Crosstown Cup" — a play on the series title, the "Crosstown Classic." But much of the BP promotional material has been put to the side for obvious reasons.
"It's unfortunate, the timing of it, but we do stand behind them during this difficult time," said Wally Hayward, the chief of sales and marketing for the Cubs.
The other sports groups are taking the same stance.
Despite the specter of environmental disaster, criminal investigations and massive cleanup bills, along with the possibility of protests surrounding their BP-sponsored events, the White Sox are sticking with their sponsorship pact, as are the USOC and the London coordinating committee.
"BP is a valued partner to London 2012, and they are keeping us regularly updated on events in the Gulf of Mexico," London 2012 spokeswoman Joanna Manning-Cooper said. "Whilst a team of specialists are focused on resolving the situation in the Gulf of Mexico, it is business as usual for the rest of the organization."
The White Sox would not reveal the financial details behind the BP sponsorship, though it doesn't figure to make up a significant part of either their or the Cubs' operating budget.
The situation with the USOC is different.
The nonprofit federation was having trouble signing sponsors for the current Olympic cycle when BP stepped in with a deal through at least 2012. That deal was estimated to be worth between $10 million and $15 million and the prospect of losing that chunk of money would leave the USOC scrambling with the Summer Olympics two years away.
Spokesman Patrick Sandusky said the USOC is in contact with BP, but mainly about the situation in the Gulf, not about the sponsorship situation, which he insists remains solid.
"This is a terrible accident that has affected an untold number of people as well as our environment," Sandusky said. "We trust that BP will continue to act aggressively to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, to address the damage that has been done and to ensure that this tragedy is not repeated."
In a fortunate twist for both sides, the deal was signed only a few months ago and BP hasn't come up with the promotional material to "activate" its sponsorship.
When it does, though, it will have to use a different strategy than it originally conceived. When the deal was signed, BP officials made a big point of wanting to connect with the Olympic movement because they felt their company and the Olympics had the same, environmentally conscious values at their core.
A BP spokesman said the company still plans to honor all its sports sponsorships.
"Our Olympics sponsorships were driven by our presence as major employer and investor in the two countries (US and UK), and our ability to provide energy in various forms to the necessary logistics efforts during the games," BP spokesman Robert Wine wrote in an e-mail.
Wine did not address a specific question about the environmental angle.
Morgenstein said the USOC and London organizing committee are taking a risk with their positions.
He said there could be several bad consequences, including protests and a possible boycott of the London Games, and that the athletes contacting him are wary of sitting back and doing nothing.
"This could be a humongous stain on the USOC," Morgenstein said. "The athletes have to seriously consider the ramifications. They're all talking about it. It's not something that missed their eye."
AP Sports Writers Andrew Seligman in Chicago and Stephen Wilson in London contributed to this report.