By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
December 21, 2009: The latest update on the Tiger Woods marketing/sponsorship scorecard: Tag Heuer has decided to "downscale" its marketing efforts with Woods while he takes time off from active play to resolve personal issues. The Swiss watch maker, however, did say it would continue its relationship with him. That puts them on-par with Gillette, which also said it would curtail marketing with Woods during this time, and Gatorade, which said it ended its Woods' signature Tiger Focus line but would keep him in their stable of sports endorsers. For Woods, that keeps the door open for future potential marketing efforts with Tag Heuer, Gatorade and Gillette.
To date, only Accenture has completely severed the alliance it had with the golfer, claiming he no longer was "the right representative" for them. Woods had been aligned with the consulting company since 2003 and was a major reason the firm successfully transitioned from its former incarnation as Andersen Consulting. Other marketing partners, led by Nike, EA Sports and Upper Deck, have supported the man who has brought them untold millions in revenue. AT&T said it is still evaluating its position with him.
Woods had been earning about $100 million a year from endorsements in 2008 when General Motors' Buick division, in the midst of an economic battlefield, GM decided to severe ties with the golfer after nine years and a year before their current marketing partnership was due to end. Under terms of the severance deal, Woods was to continue driving GM vehicles through 2009. When he was involved in his now infamous accident during the early morning hours of Nov. 27 he was driving a black GM Cadillac Escalade loaned to him by the company.
In 2009, Woods was expected to earn more than $90 million in endorsements, nearly twice that of fellow golfer Phil Mickelson, who is second among athletes in annual endorsement deals.
According to a statement from Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO for Tag Heuer, a division of LVHM Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, "The partnership with Tiger Woods will continue 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."
Tag Heuer's decision came almost simultaneously with Woods being named the PGA Player of the Year as voted by his fellow pro golfers and on the heels of being named Athlete of the Decade by the Associated Press.
Woods' situation leads to two major questions: Will sponsors sour on golf? And, when he does return to the tour, won't everyone be watching, meaning that TV ratings would be through the roof?
Regarding the first question, sponsors have not penalized the PGA Tour by dropping marketing alliances and event sponsorships due to the Woods fallout. BMW, in fact, signed a two-year extension of its partnership with the PGA Tour on Dec. 17, even as the Woods' scandal was still escalating. "We are delighted to extend our partnership with the PGA Tour," Jim O'Donnell, President of BMW of North America, said in a statement. "The BMW Championship affords us an opportunity to connect with our owners and golf fans around the United States,
That same day, the PGA Tour's Nationwide Tour said that an additional event, the Mylan Classic, would be scheduled for September.
"We are delighted with the continuing support of our sponsors and tournament organizations," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement on Dec. 18. "Their strong commitment to the Tour ensures that a positive impact continues to be made in both the communities that host Tour events and the lives that are touched through the benefiting charities. This commitment is a powerful statement about the quality of the PGA Tour and its sponsors. We look forward to another memorable season of spectacular performances by our players and to continuing our mission of giving back in the communities where we play."
History regarding athletes shows that sponsors and the public can generally be forgiving regarding indiscretions, no matter how severe. NBA star Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault in 2003. At the time he was earning about $35 million in endorsements. The case was settled out of court. He now makes about $15-$20 million in endorsements. And Michael Phelps, who became marketing gold in winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, was considered off-limits for a time after a photograph of him with marijuana paraphernalia became public in late 2008. But only one sponsor (Kellogg) cut ties and he has since starred in a new campaign for Subway.
Regarding Woods' return, until the man himself reveals his plans, speculation rules the day. But broadcast partners CBS, NBC, TNT, ESPN and the Golf Channel all have to be waiting with baited breath to be the first to show Woods' official return to the greens. But there is no doubt that his return to active play would send ratings through the roof, which always is good news for sponsors and marketing partners, who look at the turn of events in 2008 when Woods missed much of the 2008 season and ratings dropped by about 50%. Among the possible return events:
• AT&T Pebble Beach (Calif.) National Pro-Am, Feb. 11-14 (Golf Channel/CBS)
• The Masters, Augusta, Ga., April 6-11 (ESPN/CBS)
• The Players Championship, TPC Sawgrass, Pointe Vedra Beach, Fla., May 6-9 (Golf Channel/NBC)
• The U.S. Open, Pebble Beach, Calif., June 17-20 (ESPN/NBC)
• World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, Akron, Ohio Aug. 2-8 (Golf Channel/CBS)
And just to show that marketers are ready to align with Woods, Corona Cigar Co., based in Woods' stomping ground in Orlando, has offered him an endorsement deal of $100,000. "We welcome Tiger to our stores any time and are quite serious about the sponsorship offer," Jeff Borysiewicz, the company's president and founder, said in a statement. Borysiewicz claimed that Woods, who has been known to enjoy cigars, has been a customer.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor