After a frustrating first round of The Open last week, Bryson DeChambeau had some negative remarks towards his equipment, in particular his driver. In a post-round interview, DeChambeau said, “If I can hit it down the middle of the fairway, that’s great, but with the driver right now, the driver sucks. It’s not a good face for me, and we’re still trying to figure out how to make it good on the mis-hits.” He went on to say, “It’s literally the physics and the way that they build heads now. It’s not the right design, unfortunately, and we’ve been trying to fix it…”
This understandably did not sit well with the people at Cobra Golf, who sponsor DeChambeau and manufacture his drivers. Ben Schomin, Cobra’s tour operations manager and a recent caddy for DeChambeau, told Golfweek, “Everybody is bending over backwards [for DeChambeau]. We’ve got multiple guys in R&D who are CAD-ing this and CAD-ing that, trying to get this and that into the pipeline faster. [DeChambeau] knows it. It’s just really, really painful when he says something that stupid. He has never really been happy, ever. Like, it’s very rare where he’s happy.”
It’s not very often that professional athletes get into feuds with their sponsors, but when they do, the remarks made by the athlete could have significant ramifications including termination of the sponsorship. Almost every athlete endorsement agreement has legal language covering this exact type of scenario. Brands want to protect themselves from paying an athlete a good amount of money to endorse their brand and then have the athlete turn around and disparage the brand.
Legally, a brand often includes language in the Termination section of an endorsement contract such as:
“Brand may terminate or suspend this Agreement or withhold payment to Athlete in the event: (i) Athlete disparages Brand or its Products by Athlete’s words or conduct.”
Some brands will even include a entire Non-Disparagement section in the endorsement contract that could read something like this:
“Athlete hereby agrees that during the term of this Agreement and for ninety (90) days thereafter, Athlete will not make any statement or take any action that disparages, is derogatory, or is otherwise damaging to Brand and/or its subsidiaries. Violation of this provision is hereby deemed an incurable, material breach allowing for immediate termination of this Agreement.”
Please note that these are not actual examples from DeChambeau’s agreement with Cobra, rather common language found in various athlete endorsement agreements. Although, it is very possible that Cobra includes similar language in their agreements with athletes.
DeChambeau’s conduct almost certainly rises to the level of disparaging and derogatory towards Cobra. Although he did not expressly mention the Cobra brand in his rant, it was pretty apparent who he was talking about. Depending on the exact wording in his agreement with Cobra, it is cenceivable that DeChambeau’s actions rose to the amount of a breach of his endorsement agreement.
DeChambeau later took to Instagram to apologize and walk back some of his comments. It remains to be seen if the relationship between DeChambeau and Cobra can be repaired. Of course, there are other factors involved when dealing with these situations but it is most likely the case that brands can suspend, withhold payments, and even terminate sponsorships over events like this one.
Matt Haage is an attorney that has worked for four different sports agencies. He has reviewed hundreds of endorsement contracts for athletes in a wide variety of sports. Matt can be reached at email@example.com.