Gatorade’s social media newsjacking attempt backfired last night when it taunted — and later apologized to — an ailing LeBron James during the first game of the NBA Finals. James, the Miami Heat star, had left the game in the second half suffering from severe leg cramps. The air conditioning had failed in the San Antonio arena and the temperature hit nearly 90. James was given intravenous fluids after the game, which was won by the Spurs, 110-95.
Soon after LeBron starting cramping up, the person running Gatorade’s Twitter account sent out a series of replies to tweets intimating that James wouldn’t have had a problem if he had been drinking Gatorade instead of Powerade, which James endorses, starting with these: “@CarmichaelDave This is awkward….We don’t sponsor him. #fail” and “@LazyBumDrew we were waiting on the sidelines, but he prefers to drink something else.”
Today, Gatorade apologized — in a release but not on Twitter: “Our apologies for our response to fans’ tweets during last night’s Heat vs. Spurs game. We got caught up in the heat of the battle. As a longtime partner of the Miami Heat, we support the entire team.”
Gatorade hasn’t deleted the tweets. Before its LeBron cramping exchanges, it sent a tamer tweet about the sweltering temperatures during the game (eventually won by the Spurs, 110-95):
With a game this hot, we’re right at home. #WinFromWithin #NBAFinals
— Gatorade (@Gatorade) June 6, 2014
That tweet did fairly well with 472 tweets and 406 favorites, but it was the trash talking that really got Gatorade noticed. Meanwhile, Powerade’s Twitter account is silent, not having tweeted since before the game started:
— POWERADE (@POWERADE) June 6, 2014
Postscript: Turns out LeBron James was drinking Gatorade during the game, just with the label removed, making @Gatorade’s sustained trolling even more strange. As Deadspin reported:
Yes, James has an endorsement deal with Powerade. But that doesn’t trump Gatorade’s sponsorship with the NBA, for which it pays a reported $18 million a year to be the association’s “official sports drink.” Because of that deal, players on the bench have only two beverage options during games: water and Gatorade.
So, despite Gatorade tweeting that “our athletes can take the heat,” cameras captured an ailing LeBron James lustily drinking lemon-lime Gatorade in a desperate and futile attempt to get back into the game.