Virgin America Inc. and CarMax Inc. ended their sponsorships with the Los Angeles Clippers, while State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance and Kia Motors Corp. suspended their involvement with the team being investigated by the National Basketball Association over racist comments attributed to owner Donald Sterling.
The four are the first companies to alter their relationships with the team since the comments were broadcast on the website TMZ three days ago.
“While we continue to support the fans and the players, Virgin America has made the decision to end its sponsorship of the L.A. Clippers,” the airline owned by U.K. billionaire Richard Branson said in an emailed statement.
State Farm, which counts Clippers All-Star and NBA Players Association President Chris Paul among its endorsers, said in a statement that it’s “taking a pause” in its dealings with the team.
CarMax said it’s ending a nine-year relationship with the Clippers, and Kia Motors America said it was suspending its advertising and sponsorship activities with the club.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement it would make an announcement about its investigation tomorrow.
The NBA pledged to investigate “extraordinarily quickly” a recording on which, according to TMZ, Sterling told a girlfriend he didn’t want her to bring black people to his games after she posted a photo of herself with Hall-of-Famer Magic Johnson on Instagram.
“CarMax finds the statements attributed to the Clippers’ owner completely unacceptable,” the largest U.S. auto dealer by market valuation said in a statement. “These views directly conflict with CarMax’s culture of respect for all individuals.”
Kia Motors said in a statement that the comments attributed to Sterling were “offensive and reprehensible, and they are inconsistent with our views and values.”
Passenger rail line Amtrak said in a statement that its sponsorship with the Clippers ended at the conclusion of the NBA regular season and it would monitor the investigation as it plans for 2014-15.
“As fans of the game of basketball, our support of the players and the sport is unwavering,” Amtrak said in the statement.
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton said beginning today he would target marketing and broadcast partners as well as advertisers in an effort to pressure the NBA into imposing a punishment.
Johnson, part owner of baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, said Sterling should be forced to sell the Clippers.