#LochteGate means lesser-known swimmers may miss their pay day

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Ryan Lochte, Teammates Apologize For Incident In Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Veteran swimmer Ryan Lochte's brush with Rio police has already hurt his appeal to sponsors - but for two lesser-known team mates, it means they may never get a chance to sign their first major deal.

Lochte has several major sponsors, including fashion house Ralph Lauren Corp, which took down any reference to the gold medalist on its website on Friday, and swimwear company Speedo which has said it is following the situation.

But for team mates Gunnar Bentz, 20, and Jack Conger, 21, who are also embroiled in what social media has termed #LochteGate, going professional and scoring future business opportunities are now next to impossible, marketers say.

Unlike Lochte, who won the first of his six career gold medals in Athens in 2004, the pair were competing in their maiden Olympics and were yet to reap the commercial benefits of standing atop a Games podium.

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RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 12: Ryan Lochte of the United States attends a press conference in the Main Press Center on Day 7 of the Rio Olympics on August 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
2016 Rio Olympics - Swimming - Semifinal - Men's 200m Individual Medley Semifinals - Olympic Aquatics Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 10/08/2016. Ryan Lochte (USA) of USA competes REUTERS/Michael Dalder/File Photo FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
2016 Rio Olympics - Swimming - Final - Men's 200m Individual Medley Final - Olympic Aquatics Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 11/08/2016. Ryan Lochte (USA) of USA reacts. REUTERS/David Gray FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Aug 9, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Conor Dwyer (USA) , Townley Haas (USA) , Ryan Lochte (USA) and Michael Phelps (USA) with their gold medals after the men's 4x200m freestyle relay final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Olympic Aquatics Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Swimmer Ryan Lochte poses for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California March 7, 2016. "One of my favorite songs is 'Sky's the Limit' by Lil Wayne," said Lochte. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Swimmer Ryan Lochte poses for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California March 7, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 03: Ryan Lochte of USA competes in the Men's 200m Freestyle Final on day one of the 12th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) at the Hamad Aquatic Centre on December 3, 2014 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
KAZAN, RUSSIA - AUGUST 08: Ryan Lochte (L) and Nathan Adrian of the United States celebrate winning the gold medal in a new world record time of 3:23.05 in the Mixed 4x100m Freestyle Relay Final on day fifteen of the 16th FINA World Championships at the Kazan Arena on August 8, 2015 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Swimmer Ryan Lochte poses for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California March 7, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
AUSTIN, TX - JANUARY 16: Ryan Lochte swims in the Men's 400 meter individual medley during the Arena Pro Swim Series at Austin on January 16, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
US Ryan Lochte competes in the final of the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay swimming event at the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan on August 8, 2015. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE SIMON (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)
KAZAN, RUSSIA - AUGUST 06: Ryan Lochte of the United States competes his way to the gold medal in the Men's 200m Individual Medley Final on day thirteen of the 16th FINA World Championships at the Kazan Arena on August 6, 2015 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
KAZAN, RUSSIA - AUGUST 05: Ryan Lochte of the United States competes in the Men's 200m Individual Medley Semi-Finals on day twelve of the 16th FINA World Championships at the Kazan Arena on August 5, 2015 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Swimmer Ryan Lochte poses for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California March 7, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Jul 1, 2016; Omaha, NE, USA; Ryan Lochte reacts after the mens 200 meter individual medley final in the U.S. Olympic swimming team trials at CenturyLink Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JULY 16: Ryan Lochte talks with the media during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Training Camp Media Day on July 16, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
OMAHA, NE - JULY 01: Ryan Lochte of the United States prepares to compete in a final heat for the Men's 200 Meter Individual Medley during Day Six of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials at CenturyLink Center on July 1, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
OMAHA, NE - JUNE 30: Ryan Lochte of the United States reacts after competing in a semi-final heat for the Men's 200 Meter Individual Medley during Day Five of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials at CenturyLink Center on June 30, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
OMAHA, NE - JUNE 26: Ryan Lochte of the United States looks on after the final heat for the Men's 400 Meter Individual Medley during Day One of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials at CenturyLink Center on June 26, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
OMAHA, NE - JUNE 27: Ryan Lochte of the United States looks on after competing in a heat for the Men's 200 Meter Freestyle during Day Two of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials at CenturyLink Center on June 27, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
OMAHA, NE - JUNE 29: Ryan Lochte of the United States prepares to compete in a preliminary heat of the Men's 100 meter freestyle during Day 4 of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials at CenturyLink Center on June 29, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 15: Ryan Lochte swims the breaststroke leg of a preliminary heat of the men's 200m IM during the 2016 Arena Pro Swim Series at Charlotte swim meet at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center on May 15, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images)
MESA, AZ - APRIL 14: Ryan Lochte starts the Men 200 LC Meter Freestyle final at Skyline Aquatic Center on April 14, 2016 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 12: Ryan Lochte and his coach David Marsh speak to the media at a press conference prior to the 2016 Arena Pro Swim Series Charlotte swim meet at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center on May 12, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 11, 2016: Michael Phelps (L) and Ryan Lochte of the United States look on after the men's 200m individual medley final at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games, at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium. It is 22nd Olympic gold for Phelps. Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS (Photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov\TASS via Getty Images)
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They swim at U.S. college level, which means they cannot earn money. They stood next to Michael Phelps on the podium after winning gold in the 4x200m relay, so it was possible they would have been able to go pro after Rio.

But, after earning more notoriety for allegedly lying to Brazilian police than their performance in the pool, sponsors are now unlikely to put their dollars behind them, said Matt Delzell at The Marketing Arm, an Omnicom Group Inc agency that advises brands on sports endorsements.

"It's relatively hard for any swimmer to break out and to attract sponsors, but if you couple it with how they all corroborated a fabricated story, it's a black eye," Delzell said.

Before they walked into the gas station with Lochte in the early hours of Sunday morning, the road for Bentz and Conger to attract big sponsorship deals was already paved with obstacles.

Millionaire Michael Phelps is an exception rather than the rule in Olympics swimming. While the most decorated Olympian in history commands large endorsements with companies such as Under Armour Inc and watchmaker Omega, many Olympic swimmers get by with few sponsorship deals in their career.

Swimming is one of the most watched sports in the Olympics, but it is not followed year round by a mainstream audience that can be easily commercialized.

The vast majority of Olympians make a fraction of what top athletes in professional sports generate in endorsement income on a year-round basis, says Peter Land, who works with Olympic and Paralympic sponsors for communications firm Finsbury.

"While these athletes are the best in the world at their craft, the massive global spotlight shines on them for a few weeks every four years," said Land.

That means the stakes are even higher when swimmers have their time to shine in the Olympic sun, which is why some have found the scandal surrounding the U.S. swimmers so unfortunate.

"This situation has adversely impacted all areas of the Games, since it has distracted attention from other athletes, sports and stories," said Phelps' agent, Peter Carlisle at talent agency Octagon.

"The cumulative quality and nature of the exposure related to swimming certainly influences the level of interest among brands."

It may have been possible for Conger and Bentz to land smaller marketing deals in their home towns after a medal win, making money from local appearances or radio ads, said Delzell. Now, even those opportunities have likely dried up, he said.

A fourth swimmer involved in the gas station incident, Jimmy Feigen, has a deal with swimsuit maker TYR Sport, signed after the 26-year-old won a silver medal at the London 2012 Games.

TYR Sport could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Feigen paid 35,000 reais ($11,000) to a Brazilian sporting charity on Friday, a condition of reclaiming his passport from Brazilian police and being able to return home.

Medal bonuses could be in jeopardy for all four swimmers. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) pays $25,000 for gold medal winners, $15,000 for silver medals and $10,000 for bronze.

When asked whether the swimmers' bonuses were at risk, a USOC spokesman responded by pointing to a paragraph from an USOC statement that said the swimmers' behavior was unacceptable and any "potential consequences" for them would be reviewed.

Whatever the consequences for the four swimmers, Phelps' agent hopes the story will start to recede from the news agenda.

"At this point, it seems as though the story is limited to the individual athletes involved, and hopefully it will soon give way to other, more positive stories coming out of Rio," Carlisle said. (Reporting by Liana B. Baker; Editing by Leela de Kretser and Mark Bendeich)


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