Woods scandal makes sponsors wary
The self-destruction of Tiger Inc. is calling into question whether companies can afford the risk of signing multi-million dollar contracts with celebrity endorsers.
Done right, celebrities can help boost both the sale of products and their maker's image.
But the hasty and stunning downfall of Tiger Woods shows how quickly things can sour when a superstar athlete's negative life choices are exposed by today's real-time tabloid news culture.
Woods and his advisers spent years cultivating a good-guy image to go along with his winning ways, which is how he became the first athlete — and perhaps last — $1 billion US earner.
It's also what has made his fall even more jarring.
"The billion-dollar athlete might be a thing of the past," said Laura Ries, president of marketing consulting firm Ries&Ries.
Companies "want a safe choice and it seems like there's almost no safe choice out there."
Most of Woods' $100 million US in annual earnings came not from tournament winnings but from companies like Accenture that wanted to be associated with his persona.
These image ads are the type least likely to endure.
Ultimately that could mean few other sports figures will follow in Woods's footsteps.
"There has to be trust and he's just taken a grenade to any kind of traditional agreement that you'd normally have," said John Sweeney, director of sports communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Accenture severed ties with Woods on Sunday, two days after he announced an indefinite leave from professional golf to work on his marriage after admitting to infidelity.
It said he was "no longer the right representative" of the company's values.
That's not surprising since the global consulting firm had pinned its identity on the golfer and bragged that he embodied Accenture's values of perfection and integrity.
AT&T said it is also is evaluating its relationship with Woods, as is Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer.
Procter&Gamble's Gillette brand announced over the weekend it was distancing itself and won't run any ads featuring the golfer.
Nike and EA Sports say they are standing by him.
Other companies are likely to use the implosion of Tiger Inc. as a warning that they must closely scrutinize off-field behaviour of any sports star they're considering hiring and just how much benefit they're going to get.
Even then, they'll likely be wary of ads that bank on a celebrity's image and instead go for that star's endorsement of a product.
"Brands continually will come back to individuals who they believe will help them sell more product," said Rick Burton, former chief marketing officer of the United States Olympic Committee and now a sports marketing professor at New York State's Syracuse University .
"The capitalism of all this is if Tiger can help somebody sell a brand in the future, they're going to use Tiger."