PORTLAND, Ore. – Tiger Woods’ extraordinary apology Friday is the first step toward healing the image of Tiger the man. But Tiger the pitchman still has a long way to go to recover the corporate good will he has squandered.
Marketing experts say rebuilding Tiger Inc. will be possible only when he returns to the golf course. His televised apology Friday left the timing of that in doubt – though he didn’t rule out coming back this year.
That leaves marketers waiting.
“I don’t think anyone would want to rush out for someone, who by his own words, says he still needs treatment,” said Rick Burton, former chief marketing officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee and now a sports marketing professor at Syracuse University.
Woods’ statement was a necessary first step, said Vada Manager, who worked in public relations for Nike for 12 years before leaving to start his own company.
“It would have been difficult for him to return to golf without that happening today,” Manager said.
The statement, he said, included the essential ingredients: a sincere public apology, accountability for his personal behavior and a prescription for how it would be remedied.
“Winning, good behavior and time can be his friends in the long term,” Manager said.
Woods’ strength as pitchman was tied to the perception of athleticism, power and integrity people once associated with him, marketing experts say. Now, his value lies almost solely in his strength as a golfer.
The companies that have stuck most closely by Woods, Nike Inc. and Electronic Arts Inc. – which have invested specifically in his athleticism – reiterated their support Friday.
Peter Moore, president of EA Sports, said the company’s long-standing relationship with Woods remains unchanged.
“It was good to see Tiger address the public today, and we’re supportive of his focus toward family and rebuilding his life,” Moore said in a statement. “He remains one of the greatest athletes in history, and as a long-standing partner, we look forward to seeing Tiger back on the golf course when the time is right for him and his family.”
EA’s Tiger Woods-branded video games have pulled in hundreds of millions of dollars for the company over the years.
Nike continued its support of the player that it built its roughly $650 million golf business around.
“Tiger has apologized and made his position clear. Nike fully supports him and his family. We look forward to him returning to golf,” the company said in a written statement Friday.
AT&T Inc. and Accenture, dropped Woods completely in the weeks following the revelations. Others, such as Procter & Gamble Co.’s Gillette and Swiss watch maker Tag Heuer, de-emphasized him in their marketing.
Accenture spokesman Fred Hawrysh said the company had no comment about the announcement other than to say Woods acknowledgment of the fact that the announcement took place at the same time as the Accenture Match Play Championship was “a gracious gesture.”
The golf star’s array of endorsement deals helped him become the first sports star to earn $1 billion – outpacing the likes of Michael Jordan – according to Forbes.
Ultimately, Woods still has to fix his personal problems before he can rebuild his brand, said John Sweeney, director of sports communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
“This is about himself, and that world is on hold,” Sweeney said.