Tiger Woods Has Apologized, But Will Brands Forgive Him?
By Rich Thomaselli
Now that Tiger Woods’ nationally televised mea culpa is over, the question for the sports world’s greatest endorser is this: Are his sponsors willing to, pardon the pun, get back in bed with him?
Mr. Woods on Friday made his first public appearance in almost three months, since the details of his numerous marital infidelities surfaced following a one-car accident he was involved in on Thanksgiving night. In a carefully scripted and controlled setting, Mr. Woods — looking ashen, with his eyes welling at one point — spoke for almost 14 minutes, publicly admitting “I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did was not acceptable and I am the only person to blame. … I thought I could get away with anything I wanted to.”
Dean Crutchfield, chief engagement officer at branding agency Method, said the press event wasn’t a hole in one but he felt Mr. Woods showed humanity, sincerity and honesty. Mr. Crutchfield said that’s key for getting public sympathy on the golfer’s side, which leads to people wanting him back on the course, which leads to more sponsorships.
“The appropriate sponsors are going to be bending over backwards to get a deal, it may be discounted, but they are going to be pushing backwards to get one,” Mr. Crutchfield said. “Some forward-thinking brand will take advantage of that. He’s back in the game and will have sponsors lining up but it’s not going to be Johnson’s Baby Powder.”
On his personal website, tigerwoods.com, Mr. Woods lists as his official sponsors as Nike, EA Sports, Gillette Champions, Tag Heuer, Golf Digest, NetJets, Upper Deck and TLC Laser Eye Centers.
Mr. Woods was dropped completely by Accenture and AT&T. Gatorade announced in December that it was discontinuing the Gatorade Tiger Focus drink, but said that the decision had been made months earlier due to sagging sales. And Proctor & Gamble’s Gillette scaled back its advertising that utilized Mr. Woods, although he continues to be associated with the company.
A P&G spokesman this morning said there was no change in Mr. Woods’ sponsorship status with Gillette as a result of his news conference.
Slap at Accenture?
Accenture was the first sponsor to drop Mr. Woods after the details of his infidelities surfaced, and many felt that the golfer’s decision to hold his news conference on the same day of the third round of the Accenture World Championship tournament was a vindictive slap at his former backer.
But Accenture spokesman Fred Hawrysh said Mr. Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg of Cleveland-base IMG, advised Accenture about the press conference in advance of the announcement to the media and there was no deliberate attempt to undermine the golf tournament.
The reason the event was held this morning is that Mr. Woods said he is headed back to therapy after a short break this week, and he made direct note of that in his news conference.
“Starting tomorrow, I will leave for more treatment and more therapy,” Mr. Woods said. “I would like to thank my friends at Accenture and the players in the field this week for understanding why I’m making these remarks today.”
But Mr. Hawrysh said Mr. Woods is not under consideration to return as an Accenture endorser.
“We ended our marketing agreement with Tiger Woods in December when he was no longer an effective vehicle to deliver our advertising messages,” Mr. Hawrysh told Ad Age. “However, we continue to support golf and the Accenture Match Play Championship and we look forward to having Tiger back at next year’s tournament.”
Nike and EA Sports have already publicly supported the golfer. Tag Heuer, after initially saying it would drop Mr. Woods, has also kept the golfer as an endorser.
“The partnership with Tiger Woods will continue,” Jean-Christophe Babin, president-CEO of Tag Heuer, said in a statement. “But we will downscale the use of his image in certain markets for a period of time, depending on his decision about returning to professional golf. We will continue to actively support the Tiger Woods Foundation.”
Never Be the Same
Stephen McDaniel, professor of sports marketing at the University of Maryland, said he believes Mr. Woods will never be the same endorser again.
“I believe he was sincere and it sounds like he’s doing the right things to move forward, but from an advertiser perspective, in his career as an endorser, I can’t imagine this [news conference] has done anything to assuage his commercial partners in any way,” Mr. McDaniel said.
Perhaps just as importantly, Mr. Woods said he did not know when he would return to the game of golf, saying “I do plan to return to golf one day. I just don’t know when that day will be. I don’t rule out it will be this year.”
The PGA Tour can’t wait.
Not only is Mr. Woods a personal endorsement machine — $64 million in 2009 according to Forbes magazine — but his presence on the PGA Tour is the difference between a financial birdie and a bogey to all parties involved: the Tour, TV networks and advertisers. When Mr. Woods injured his knee and missed a good portion of the 2008 and some of the 2009 golf season, TV viewership of weekly tournaments plummeted by almost 47% according to Nielsen Media.