Yesterday (3 December), the world’s premier golfer and one of the most recognisable and richest sportsmen on the planet, admitted to “personal sins” and “transgressions” amid allegations that he has had a series of extra-marital affairs.
Woods, the winner of 14 major titles, is believed to have amassed close to £600m in career earnings since he burst onto the scene in the nineties, about 80% of which is believed to come from sponsors who were attracted to his image as a wholesome family man as well as his undoubted sporting ability.
Despite his admission that he has “not been true” to his values, his sponsors have rallied around.
Nike says in a statement that it “supports” the star and his family, adding its relationship “remains unchanged”.
Gillette, which also publically backed another of its ambassadors, football star Thierry Henry, after his handball in a World Cup qualifier against France last month, says it had no plans to change any of its marketing plans.
Several other backers including Gatorade, Electronic Arts, TLC Vision and Berkshire Hathaway Netjets also issued statements of support.
Sponsorship experts say the backing from Woods’ sponsors is unsurprising and will continue as long as he continues to deliver on the gold course.
Karen Earl, chairman of sports sponsorship consultancy Synergy, says despite the “media storm” sponsors recognise his commercial value.
“He is a phenomenon and unlike anyone else so he will have to fall a long way before people twice about him”
Robert Passikoff, president of customer loyalty firm Brand Keys, says sponsors will forgive Woods’ “transgressions” as long as there is no evidence that it is affecting sales.
“Loyalty isn’t capricious. It’s palpable, especially as it regards sales and situations where the brand requires the benefit of the doubt. It’s far more emotional than rational, which is why virtually 100% of people asked if Tiger’s behavior was acceptable, would tell you “no,” and why that same 100% are willing to forgive his indiscretions. Which is why his biggest sponsors, along with his fans, have reaffirmed their support for him,” he says.
Antony Marcou, managing director of Sports Revolution, adds that as long as Woods’ on-course performances are not affected by the allegations then sponsors will continue to back him.
“If he starts missing cuts then that might make a difference”, he says, adding “if someone does leave him then some other smart brand will pick him up”.