Can the Los Angeles Clippers Brand Survive Donald Sterling?

LA Clippers Bench ProtestAccording to Forbes, the Los Angeles Clippers have a current value of $575 million and are operating at a profit of $15 million per year. That means that on the open market owner Donald Sterling could expect to sell his team for about $1 billion based on other sales in the league recently. And right now, selling the team may be the only thing that saves it.

If you haven’t heard the news out of LA this weekend it goes like this, the Clippers 80 year old owner Sterling was caught on a leaked audio tape making extremely racist remarks about African Americans to his then (now ex) girlfriend. The viral nature of the news is probably due in part to the fact that it was TMZ who first got their hands on the content and released it to the world.

Since the news broke reaction has been flying in from all corners of the basketball world from fellow owners (Michael Jordan, Ted Leonsis), former players (Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley), current players (Kobe Bryant, LeBron James), his own coach Doc Rivers and even the President of the United States. None of the reaction has been good. It is extremely safe to say that Donald Sterling’s personal brand has been hit by a truck with no chance of repairing the damage.

Los Angeles Clippers LogoHowever, there may still be a chance to save the Clippers’ brand. But if Donald Sterling remains the owner and escapes massive punishment from the NBA for his (alleged) comments, the fan base will definitely start showing their disdain with their wallets. Or rather, by not opening them. The Clippers brand community is made up of a majority of black and Latino fans. It always has been. The Lakers were always the expensive basketball darlings and the Clippers their cheaper little brother that was accessible to all basketball fans. And that’s why Sterling needs to sell the team.

Not only has he offended his employees which include an African American coach and 12 black men out of 14 total players on the roster. But he has offended the very people that make him his $15 million per year in tickets, merchandise, TV ratings, advertising, sponsorship, etc. The brand community loves this team. They feel connected to the players, and have been waiting a long time for this team to be as good as they are right now. They have been good fans to a second class team. And they have given Donald Sterling a lot of their money. But they do not deserve to be treated or talked about as second class citizens.

Note: To date the Clippers have lost sponsorship from Red Bull, CarMax and Virgin American with State Farm and KIA Motors America putting their sponsorships on hold.

LA Clippers Warm Up Jersey Protest gifOn Sunday afternoon the Clippers played a 1st round playoff game vs the Golden State Warriors. Before the game the Los Angeles players took off their warm up jerseys and threw them in a pile at centre court while wearing their warm up shirts inside out to hide the Clippers logo in a silent protest against Sterling. I believe if this had happened at any time in the regular season you would have seen a much more involved protest from the players and fans that could have included boycotting the game (if it had been in LA) in the stands and on the court.

On Tuesday afternoon the NBA is scheduled to make a statement about the situation and possible punishment. If Sterling is unpunished and/or remains the owner, these things could still happen when the 2014-15 regular season opens this fall. The brand community should and could revolt. They should stop spending money. They should protest. They should make life miserable for the man, the team and the NBA. A race war is not something that the NBA wants to invite. And it is certainly not something that the Los Angeles Clippers brand can survive.


Joshua Murray

Fuelled by ideas, opportunity and coffee, Joshua attacks the social media landscape every day with a purpose. His experience in retail, customer service and public relations have combined to give him a 360 degree view of social media for brands and he is committed to helping all of his clients leverage their voice in the social sphere.

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