Smashed up, semi-conscious and bleeding may be how Tiger Woods was discovered three days ago. However, his reputation as a top brand endorser should remain relatively unscathed, according to sports marketing experts.
Woods is currently the face of some of the world's biggest companies. Accenture, American Express, AT&T, EA Sports, Gatorade, Gillette and Nike are among the brands to which he has ties. All told, he pulls in about $100 million annually in endorsement deals, per Forbes.
Allegations of infidelity and other stories that are currently swirling will not greatly affect his abilities as an endorser, said David Schwab, vp, Octagon Sports Marketing's First Call and managing director of athletes and personalities. "If it's only a spat and the story is what we've seen, then it doesn't affect him," Schwab said. "He is unique in terms of his global appeal, size and long-term ability. He's not like a prime-time actor competing with 30 other competitors. He doesn't compete with anyone."
Woods' target demographic, namely middle- to upper-class males, "tend to be a lot more forgiving," said Larry McCartney, associate professor of sports marketing at Seton Hall University's Center for Sport Management. "There are obviously rumors flying around all over the place at the moment, but he's pretty much bulletproof."
Nike has already issued a statement of support, and Leverage Agency CEO Ben Sturner expects that other brands will follow suit. "All of his sponsors are going to support him," he said.
A Gillette rep said, "He remains a part of our current marketing efforts. We have not announced any changes to our plans."
The only danger for Woods involves any offers that are currently on the table. "Right now if I'm a brand manager negotiating to do a global campaign, do I pull out because maybe it could get worse?" said Sturner. Still, "long term will it hurt? No. Look at Kobe Bryant right now. Look at the other stars that have had worse incidents that have dampened their reputations [and rebounded]. It's about what happens on the golf course. That will make or break his marketing appeal."