By Michael McCarthy, USA TODAY
The first dent in Tiger Woods’ gold-plated endorsement portfolio appeared Tuesday as Gatorade said it was dropping its Woods-themed line of sports drinks.
It remains to be seen if the world’s richest, most famous athlete permanently damaged his brand image, as well as his SUV, when he crashed into a tree outside a neighbor’s home on Nov. 27.The current endorsement king of Madison Avenue makes most of his estimated $100 million a year off the course. Among his blue-chip sponsors: Gatorade, AT&T, Nike, Gillette, Accenture, EA Sports, Upper Deck and Tag Heuer.
TUESDAY: Woods’ mother-in-law released from Fla. hospitalGatorade confirmed a report by CNBC on Tuesday that it was dumping its Gatorade Tiger Focus brand, which first hit retail shelves in 2008. But Gatorade said it made the decision to discontinue the line before Woods’ single-car crash and the resulting media frenzy about his alleged extramarital affairs.
“We decided several months ago to discontinue Gatorade Tiger Focus along with some other products to make room for our planned series of innovative products in 2010,” spokeswoman Jen Schmit said in a statement.
The decision to drop Tiger Focus was first reported by trade publication Beverage Digest in an issue dated Nov. 25. The publication’s editor, John Sicher, told the Associated Press he learned of the decision the week of Nov. 9.
Beverage Digest estimates it represents less than 5% of Gatorade’s volume. Sales volume of Tiger Focus was down 34% this year through October.
Woods’ corporate sponsors have not aired any TV spots featuring the married father of two small kids on prime-time TV since two days after his car accident, according to Aaron Lewis
There have been no Tiger commercials since on all the broadcast networks and 19 cable networks during the evening news, prime-time, late-night and during weekend sports, Lewis said.
Meantime, Woods seemed to be making his first public move to reach out to corporate partners Sunday in a statement on his website thanking “amazing title sponsor Chevron for sponsoring his tournament in Southern California. Woods skipped the event, citing injuries from the crash.
Some sponsors, such as Nike, have strongly stood by Woods. Others, such as AT&T, have remained largely silent about their relationship with the world’s No. 1 golfer.
AT&T signed a deal this year to put its logo on Woods’ golf bag and is the primary sponsor of his AT&T National golf tournament. Asked Tuesday if AT&T would continue those commitments, company spokesman Michael Coe declined to comment.
Corporate sponsors typically lay low when an endorser who is an athlete or celebrity becomes embroiled in scandal, notes Al Moffatt, president of Worldwide Partners.
Sponsors have the ability to wiggle out of long-term contracts by arguing the endorser violated morals clauses common in many contracts. But those cases typically end up in court and are difficult to prove.
A more common response is for sponsors to pull advertising featuring the embattled star, wait for contracts to expire and then decline to renew. That’s what Moffatt thinks will happen with some of Woods’ sponsors once the fuss dies down. In the meantime, he believes it will be “difficult if not impossible” for Team Tiger to attract new corporate partners.
“If someone brought up Tiger Woods as a potential endorser three weeks ago, the response would have been, ‘Great. Can we afford him?’ Now, the response would be, ‘Are you crazy?’ “