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updated: 4/28/2014 5:09 PM

Sponsors flee Clippers after racial remarks

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  • Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, right, and V. Stiviano, left, watch the Clippers play the Sacramento Kings during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles Oct. 25, 2013.

      Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, right, and V. Stiviano, left, watch the Clippers play the Sacramento Kings during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles Oct. 25, 2013.


NEW YORK -- Virgin America Inc. and CarMax Inc. ended their sponsorships with the Los Angeles Clippers after the National Basketball Association began an investigation into racist comments attributed to team owner Donald Sterling.

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance, Kia Motors Corp. and Los Angeles-based sports drink company AquaHydrate Inc. said they would suspend their sponsorship deals with the Clippers. They're the first five companies to alter their relationships with the team since TMZ broadcast the comments three days ago.

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"You're going to see more than that, too," said William Sutton, a sports-marketing consultant who works with a half dozen NBA teams. "One, it offended their sense of decency and two, it offended the sense of decency of their clientele, who are going to be pushing back on them."

Clippers sponsorship deals "could be as high as $30 million to $50 million in that market," Sutton, the founding director of the University of South Florida's sport and entertainment masters of business administration program, said Monday.

The NBA said in a statement it would address the investigation at a news conference Tuesday in New York, though some companies opted not to wait to sever ties.

"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 e-mailed statement.

State Farm, which counts Clippers All-Star and NBA Players Association President Chris Paul among its endorsers, said in a statement 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.

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 player 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 expired at the end of the NBA regular season and it would monitor the investigation as it plans for 2014-15.

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton said beginning Monday 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.

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