UPDATE: Sponsors Have Begun to Abandon the Clippers

 Los_Angeles_Clippers_logoWhat’s the number one sign that your CEO/spokesperson’s controversial behavior has gone from being a source of social media gossip to a real-life business concern?

It’s all about the sponsors, of course–and the biggest names behind the L.A. Clippers have begun to make their way toward the exits in a fashion more predictable than the menu at Paula Deen’s restaurant.

As Mediaite reported this morning, State Farm was the first big name to say “bye” after Steve Stoute of the brand’s ad agency Translation told ESPN that he’d recommended the move.

CarMax followed quickly behind, preceding Virgin America and KIA.

Famed celebrity publicist and Frederick & Associates founder Hunter Frederick gave us his straightforward take on the matter; that quote and some corporate statements after the jump.

First, here’s the statement from CarMax to The Huffington Post:

“CarMax finds the statements attributed to the Clippers’ owner completely unacceptable. These views directly conflict with CarMax’s culture of respect for all individuals. While we have been a proud Clippers sponsor for 9 years and support the team, fans and community, these statements necessitate that CarMax end its sponsorship.”

Other brands’ responses were a bit less definitive: note that KIA’s statement says it is “suspending” its sponsorship while State Farm’s official release also allows for some wiggle room:

“The remarks attributed to the Clippers’ owner are offensive. While those involved sort out the facts, we will be taking a pause in our relationship with the organization. We are monitoring the situation and we’ll continually asses our options.”

Even the sponsors that don’t have currently active contracts with the Clippers are running away. This one comes from Amtrak, whose sponsorship deal ended with the regular season:

“As with any sponsorship advertising, some assets remain in the market…to that end we are diligently working to remove all sponsorship assets.”

Hunter Frederick summed up the general idea: of course these brands don’t want to be tainted by the ongoing salaciousness of this story. He thinks there’s really only one way that the team can control the damage:

“Sponsors are leaving because they don’t want to be affiliated with a controversy. Because the Clippers’ management has yet to determine what if any disciplinary action will be brought upon Mr. Sterling, they are leaving to save face. If the Clippers want to avoid this they need to act swiftly against Mr. Sterling.”

Is that easier said than done? If the organization plans to wait for the league itself to act, then we can expect the sponsor exodus to continue (though there really aren’t many left at this moment).

In fact, if Mr. Sterling really wants to save his team, the best thing for him to do short of issuing a personal apology to every person who has ever held a basketball might be to admit defeat and sell the Clippers to Magic Johnson.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.