Even as Magic Johnson’s foundation to fight AIDS gets off the ground, his agent struggles to quash reports that advertisers are deserting the basketball star in droves. Recently sponsors Target Stores and KFC both let their contracts lapse, and Nestle is undecided about whether to air a candy bar commercial Johnson made last fall. Still, Pepsi has pledged to renew Johnson’s deal when it expires later this year, and both Spalding sports equipment and Converse sneakers have vowed to continue their contracts with him.
”I think his days as a pure product endorser are over,” says Advertising Age critic Robert Garfield, who blames squeamishness over the sexual promiscuity that apparently led to Johnson’s HIV. The financial stakes are considerable: Johnson reportedly collects as much as $12 million a year for endorsements. But Johnson’s agent, Lon Rosen, denies that his client’s appeal as an endorser has dimmed, citing continuing interest in Johnson from new advertisers and two toys featuring Johnson due in stores later this year.