Simone Biles’ Sponsors Stand By Her Side as the World Awaits a Potential Return to the Mat

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Dave Shopland/Shutterstock (12232742bh)Simone Biles embraces teammate Sunisa Lee after withdrawing from the Artistic Gymnastic, Women's Team FinalArtistic Gymnastics, Ariake Gymnastics Centre, Tokyo Olympic Games 2020, Japan - 27 Jul 2021.
Dave Shopland/Shutterstock / Dave Shopland/Shutterstock

Following superstar and Olympic gold medalist gymnast Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from some Olympics events due to mental health reasons, her sponsors are standing by her side. And that crucial for an athlete like Biles — a significant portion of her income (and estimated $6 million net worth) is drawn from brand endorsements.

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United Airlines, a Team USA sponsor, also tweeted “Superhuman ability. Superhuman bravery.”

Meanwhile, Visa tweeted “An inspiration, on and off the mat.”

“We are sending Simone support from across all of Visa. The team Visa family recognizes her incredibly brave decision, which shows how Simone is able to inspire both on and off the mat,” the company added.

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Dropping support of Biles would hurt a brand more than it would help, David Carter, sports business professor at the University of Southern California, and founder of marketing consultancy Sports Business Group, told the AP. His statements echoed support from former athletes, who pointed out that for an elite athlete like Biles, what she is facing could result in severe injury or death.

“Given the fluidity and high-profile nature of the situation, as well as the sensitivities associated with her reasoning behind withdrawing, sponsors must be very careful not to be perceived as cutting and running,” Carter said. “Doing so would not only draw the ire of many consumers who staunchly support Biles, but also future athletes contemplating marketing relationships with any brands deemed tone deaf to the circumstances involved.”

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Athleta for example, said in a statement, “We stand by Simone and support her well-being both in and out of competition,” Kyle Andrew, the company’s chief brand officer, said in a statement to The New York Times. “Being the best also means knowing how to take care of yourself. We are inspired by her leadership today and are behind her every step of the way.”

Biles had signed with Athleta after leaving behemoth sponsor Nike in April, saying the smaller brand more closely reflected her values, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Following their statement in support of Biles, Athleta even went a step further and announced the launch of AthletaWell, an innovative and immersive new platform aiming to create a safe space for women to connect on a range of topics rooted in female wellbeing, the company said in a statement earlier this week.

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Given the evolving stance about mental health issues in the world of sports and entertainment, the financial implications that drive brands to align themselves with famous people are complex. Learn more about celebrities who were fired by their sponsors following major scandals.

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Last updated: July 30, 2021

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.
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