Has Tiger Woods Hurt The Athlete Endorsement Market?

I’ve read on more than one occasion since the Tiger Woods story broke last month that the endorsement market for all athletes will suffer as a result of his indiscretions. The thinking goes that if companies can’t trust someone like Tiger, who for years had the cleanest image among all athletes, who can they trust?

Tiger Woods continues to endorse Nike. The organiztion stands behind him.

Tiger Woods continues to endorse Nike. The organization stands behind him.

I don’t agree with this assessment. There’s an inherent risk whenever a company utilizes an athlete. He could get hurt, traded, arrested or, in the case of Tiger, caught with his pants down. Athletes have been endorsing products for close to 100 years and will continue to do so.

For every high-profile scandal such as Tiger or Kobe Bryant earlier this decade that resulted in companies either cancelling or not renewing their endorsement agreements, there are countless examples of endorsement deals that have been successful. Do you think Nike was disappointed with Michael Jordan or Gatorade with Derek Jeter?

Over the weekend, I was watching CNN and three commercials in a row featured athletes – Howie Long for Chevrolet, Dan Marino for NutriSystem and Chris Berman for Applebees. So will there be any fallout from “Tigergate”?

My guess is that companies will scrutinize potential endorsers even closer. Morality clauses, which give companies the ability to opt out of an endorsement agreement should an issue arise, will likely be tightened even more. And most importantly, companies likely won’t build their entire advertising campaign around just one athlete, which is what Accenture did with Tiger. Some people have estimated it will cost Accenture tens of millions of dollars just to remove all the advertising featuring Tiger. How many times have you been in an airport and seen an Accenture billboard with Tiger?

Speaking of Tiger, his fall from the mountaintop has been historic. Never has an athlete of Tiger’s stature fallen so far so fast. Just a month ago, ask someone to describe Tiger’s image and you would likely hear such words as squeaky-clean, trustworthy and integrity. To date, among his sponsors who have either cancelled or scaled down their involvement with him  include Tag Heuer, Accenture and Gillette. Gatorade is phasing out its Tiger product, although it made the announcement a few days prior to the start of Tiger’s problems.

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