The Best for Both Worlds


He may be the only celebrity we dont worry about when $7 million goes out the window.
No question, Tiger Woods will be the person who has the least to lose from the end of his nine-year endorsement relationship with troubled auto giant General Motors. No, $7 million is not a piddling sum to Tiger, even though his annual endorsement income is north of $100 million. But to a company such as GM, whose three-quarter net sales and revenue this year (a very down year) are more than $118 billion, an amount such as $7 million should be no more than a rounding error. When companies have to start cutting at that level, business is indeed abysmal.
The Woods family is set for two generations out and longer, if they so choose. General Motors, along with its chief competitors, Chrysler and Ford, are in dire straits, so much so that their chief executives had to supplicate themselves before Congress last week in vain entreaties for federal (read: taxpayer) aid. All but Ford are said to be teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
So it hurts even more, say officials of Buick, the GM nameplate to which Tiger lent his considerable marketing heft, to have to let go of the best pitchman in the world. As one Buick exec put it, people simply dont reach for the remote when a commercial with Tiger in it comes on.
Still, GM was in a spot. If they got federal aid, or someday succeed in getting it, would they want taxpayers essentially paying Tiger Woods? Would Tiger want that? Even though the deal was to continue into 2009, it made sense for both parties to put it to rest early. GM cuts costs and avoids a public relations headache; Tiger has more time to spend with his growing family (new baby is due in February). He likely wants that more than money right now. Also, by letting GM out early, Tigers camp preserves the kind of good will that may lead to an even better deal with a rejuvenated GM down the line.
But what does the end of the ride mean for the rest of golf? Well, there are no sure things and about as many public comments from the powers that be. But here are some possibilities:
Tournament sponsorships
Actually, this has been a hard sell since before this years financial crisis. Not many companies below the behemoths can spare the kind of money sponsorship requires ' at least $5 million, more for a premier PGA Tour event. Now, though, its going to be even harder. The Tour is very good at showing and preserving value, and at keeping partners ' so the two Buick events on the 2009 schedule are safe. Beyond that, though, there could be trouble. That will be especially true for the LPGA and perhaps the Nationwide and Champions Tours.
Player endorsements
Again, for at least the last five years, companies both in and out of golf have been reviewing their sponsorship expenditures more carefully. Bang for the buck better be louder, or checkbooks will magically disappear. Some companies long ago let go their LPGA playing staffs. Consumer product money ' such as food companies, insurance and investment firms, and the like ' will appear on fewer hats as discretionary budgets shrink.
Next on Tigers bag
Wouldnt Nike want to swoosh in there? Perhaps ' but with Tiger so well-identified already as a Nike athlete (admit it: no one since 'His Airness' Michael Jordan has been more recognizable), does Nike need to bother? That leaves non-golf powers to go for the space, assuming they have escaped the world financial gloom. Mercedes-Benz? Dubai Tourism? (Tiger has connections there from his course design work.) Or how about Tiger Woods Design itself? Or the Tiger Woods Foundation? As weve seen, he doesnt need the money.
Now, that would start something.
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