As soon as Donald Sterling made news with his racism (again), sponsors fled the Los Angeles Clippers like the entire franchise was infected by the plague. No one wanted to be associated with the team—for good reason—even if that wasn't entirely fair to the 99 percent of the organization that had nothing to do with Sterling on a daily basis.
According to Cindy Boren of The Washington Post, the fleeing sponsors included CarMax, State Farm, Virgin America, Chumash Resort Casino, Kia Motors America, Red Bull, Lumber Liquidators, Yokohama Tire, LoanMart, Corona, AQUAhydrate and Sprint. Amtrak was working to join the group as well.
Yes, that's 14 sponsors.
Rashad Robinson, the executive director of ColorOfChange.org, released the following statement, per Boren, that essentially sums up what many of these companies were thinking:
As of this morning State Farm and CarMax have announced it will no longer sponsor the Los Angeles Clippers. We are encouraged by this news and look forward to seeing other corporations do the right thing and follow suit. Corporations have a choice. They can either continue aligning with Donald Sterling, or stand up and end their association with Sterling and his racist, dehumanizing language and actions. ColorOfChange members will continue to raise their voices, and hold those that continue associating with Sterling accountable.
But that was all before NBA commissioner Adam Silver came down strictly and swiftly, fining Sterling $2.5 million, banning him for life and beginning the process of an ownership transition. As soon as that last punishment left his mouth, you can be sure that sponsors started to think about backtracking.
"Those marketing partners of the Clippers and partners of the entire NBA should judge us on our response to this incident," the commish said during his press conference announcing the sanctions being levied upon Sterling, per the Los Angeles Times' Tiffany Hsu and Andrea Chang. "I would hope that they would return to their business relationship with the Clippers."
And so far, it seems as though that's exactly what's happening.
As Hsu and Chang report, Kia had unequivocal praise for Sterling's decisive actions, though the company is maintaining its split from the Clippers for the time being. That's by no means permanent, though, and it seems likely that the vote of 29 owners meant to officially remove Sterling from their exclusive fraternity would allow the relationship to regain its former strength.
Should sponsors return to the Clippers?
CarMax is another company that won't immediately pretend nothing happened, but it also wouldn't rule out a future partnership once everything settles down. And, as Silver hopes, you can expect many of the other former sponsors to follow suit.
The Sterling news had the potential to be financially devastating for the Clippers, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone still remaining unpunished within the L.A. organization can thank the first-year commissioner for that.