Tiger Woods: The Corporate Sponsors

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Tiger Woods  Chronicle - Tiger HimeslfThe Sponsors

Prior to the ‘Tiger Pause,’ the world’s greatest golfer, and arguably its most prominent athlete, was sponsored by some of the top global brands.  International corporations including Accenture, AT&T, Nike, EA Sports, Tag Heuer, Golf Digest, NetJets and Gillette all made use of the vast marketability of Tiger Woods.  Of his estimated $100 million annual income, approximately 90% was derived through sponsorships – far exceeding his PGA Tour income, which was in itself meaningful as Tiger was consistently the Tour’s leading money winner.  Woods was the unquestioned champion of corporate sponsorships, dwarfing the endorsement of such sports luminaries as soccer’s David Beckham, basketball’s LeBron James and football’s Peyton Manning.

While the full financial impact on Tiger is still to be determined, his unquestioned place atop the sponsorship pedestal has surely been jolted by his admitted “transgressions.” Tiger and his management team had meticulously crafted his image as the consummate family man who epitomized the kind of strength, discipline, and focus that leads to corporate success.  Within two weeks of the accident, most sponsors publicly announced that they were weighing their options, and likely evaluating each other’s positions regarding the golf superstar.  Meantime, it was widely reported that a virtual black-out had occurred as of November 29th on the use of Woods’ commercial image on television. As Tiger’s privacy eroded, so too did his sponsors’ support.

As 2010 unfolded in the timeline below, Tiger’s carefully crafted image that once seemed set in stone begins to dissipate like sand in an hourglass.

12/14/09: Tiger’s corporate sponsors weigh multiple factors, including Tiger’s relationship with his own family, fan/consumer reaction, and Tiger’s possible return to grace – a/k/a the “Kobe Bryant factor.” (TheAtlanticWire.com)

12/20/09: The dust begins to settle on the sponsorship landscape, revealing a preliminary set of corporate adjustments:

“Business consulting firm Accenture dropped Woods as a spokesman and AT&T is evaluating its relationship with Woods. Video game maker Electronic Arts is not changing its relationship with Woods, but PepsiCo has reportedly dropped production of the Tiger Focus Gatorade drink.  Proctor & Gamble has pulled the Gillette ads featuring Woods, while Nike is still paying Woods $25 to $30 million a year to wear its products.  TLC Vision Corp., the Mississauga, Ont., firm that did Woods’ eye surgery is staying with him, as is Upper Deck trading cards which will continue its Tiger Woods cards.  TAG Heuer, the Swiss watchmaker, announced Friday that it will “downscale” its use of Woods’ image in its advertising campaigns for the foreseeable future.  And Net Jets, the fractional jet ownership company owned by Berkshire Hathaway (which also owns The Buffalo News) did not comment about its use of Woods in some ads.” (BuffaloNews.com)

12/23/09: The Dallas Morning News reports that Tiger’s “value as an advertising pitchman is pretty much nonexistent,” based on Dallas-based promotion firm’s Davie Brown Entertainment Index.  According to its latest poll, taken on Dec. 15, of 2,400 celebrities Woods came in at 2,252 in appeal, 1,681 as an “effective pitchman” and 2,161 in “trustworthiness.” (DallasNews.com)

Sally Jenkins writes in the Washington Post:

“Woods’s puerile foibles wouldn’t be any of our business if his sole entry into the public sphere were on a golf course. But Woods — and the huge corporate entities around him – spent the past decade specifically creating an image that goes far beyond his performance in golf, and profited hugely from it… The entire premise of his endorsements was: Buy these products because this is someone you want to be associated with.” (Washington Post)

12/28/09: A study by two economics professors at the University of California, Davis – Victor Stango and Christopher Knittel – concludes that Tiger’s little auto accident has morphed into a financial train wreck, adversely affecting his corporate sponsors’ financial health to the tune of $4.3 billion in stock value (a 2.3% overall decline) in the 13 days following the original incident. (Wall Street Journal)

1/6/10: In a Washington Post chat, Vanity Fair writer Buzz Bissinger notes that the scandal has helped peel away many layers of a false image.  “It was all about the money for Tiger and his handlers. Hence, all the work at creating a certain image. Hence endorsing products he did not even use,” Bissinger concludes.  He believes that Tiger’s fall from grace is in large part a product of his own making.  “[N]obody in sports benefited from the projection of an image we now know was false to the extent Tiger did. A billion dollars is in my mind at least a lot of money, all for coming off as the embodiment of mom and apple pie and also being an amazing athlete.” (Washington Post)

1/27/10:Despite Tiger’s accelerated fall from grace, he tops Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s 2010 Power 100, ahead of fellow high-profile athletes LeBron James, Phil Mickelson, Albert Pujols and Peyton Manning. Ultimately, Tiger presents a cautionary tale for marketers.

“According to E-Poll Market Research, Woods’ 86% awareness rating is on par with the likes of George H.W. Bush and Tom Hanks. Few active athletes are even in his stratosphere, with Shaquille O’Neal the second most recognizable at 77%, and Michael Phelps a distant third at 60%.” (BusinessWeek.com)

2/4/10: Notwithstanding his trials in 2009, Forbes concludes that Tiger is still worth a few dollars … his endorsement “brand” being valued at $82 million in 2010 alone.

“Even though Woods isn’t likely to see a repeat of the $105 million he earned from sponsors last year anytime soon, his remaining deals, including those with Nike, Electronic Arts and Procter & Gamble’s Gillette, will still earn enough to keep him the world’s highest-paid athlete in 2010 even if he does not hit a single golf ball all year.” (Forbes.com)

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