Porter Novelli

The widespread media coverage of Los Angeles Clippers owner Don Sterling and his comments this weekend are no surprise. What is surprising, are the reactions by players, the NBA, political leaders and even brands.

Gossip-publication TMZ first broke the story, releasing audio of a woman who identified herself as Sterling’s girlfriend, V. Stiviano, and a man who at the time was alleged to be Sterling. The tape includes statements by the man telling the woman that he would rather she didn’t publicize her “association with black people,” including NBA legend Magic Johnson. The tape spread throughout social media quickly and flooded the airwaves.

Public opinion was swift and consistent. NBA players and owners, including Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, pushed for immediate removal of Sterling. Players protested by turning their warm ups inside-out and wearing black socks in solidarity. Even members of Congress, pundits and President Barack Obama jumped in front of cameras to express their disgust and anger at these comments. But perhaps more powerful was the reaction by the brands, many of whom have been associated with the NBA for many years.

USA Today was among the first to discuss this perspective around companies and their “mass exodus” from their relationship with the Clippers. In total, more than 15 sponsors suspended or cut ties with the team since the news broke.  Companies included State Farm Insurance, Kia Motors America (and their famed Blake Griffin TV spots) and even Mercedes-Benz. Amtrak, whose sponsorship was already expiring at the end of the season, is working quickly to remove any remnants of their agreement stating, “Amtrak believes the language used is unacceptable and is inconsistent with our corporate belief to treat everyone with integrity and dignity.”

Taking a look at the statistics makes it very clear why brands would act so quickly, even before the NBA took decisive action against the team’s owner. African-Americans have a buying power of nearly $1 trillion and household incomes are increasing rapidly. In fact, in the next 5 years, 86% of all retail growth will come from multicultural consumers**. Brands understand this and want to make sure they are in a position to welcome these consumers and grow their business.

In the end, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had little choice other than to ban Sterling from all NBA activities for life and fining him $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed. Having an owner make these comments tarnishes the NBA’s reputation and has very real business consequences. We commend the commissioner and the NBA for quickly removing racist views that have no place in our society.

Situations like this one, or last year’s Paula Deen scandal, remind us that the business world is changing as a result of our increasingly diverse population. Would sponsors have reacted so quickly and decisively had this happened a decade ago? Probably not. Today, more than ever before, brand success hinges on the ability to embrace the principles of inclusion to drive consumer connection. It’s not only good for business but for the fabric of country.

**These statistics and others are available. Please contact the multicultural team for more information at diana.valencia@porternovelli.com