Woods indefinite break to hurt Tiger Inc

By Associated PressDecember 13, 2009, 4:07 am

When Tiger Woods’ break from golf ends, he’s unlikely to regain his crown as one of the world’s most valuable pitchmen, even if he gets back to winning tournaments and convinces people he’s changed.

America loves comeback stories, but his future ad opportunities are likely to be limited to sports product endorsements, significantly reducing his earnings power.

That was the takeaway from Gillette’s announcement Saturday that it won’t feature Woods in its ads for an unspecified period of time. It was the first major sponsor to distance itself from Woods since he announced late Friday he is taking an indefinite leave from golf to work on his marriage after allegations of infidelity surfaced in recent weeks.

Woods’ time-out and request for privacy may give sponsors the cover they need to pull their ads indefinitely and distance themselves from allegations that Woods had trysts with multiple women.

AT&T said it is evaluating its relationship with the golfer. Representatives from Accenture won’t say what its plans are regarding Woods, whom the consulting firm has used to personify its claimed attributes of integrity and high performance. But its Web site no longer displays on its home page an image of the golfer that had been there as recently as Thursday.

Companies often use athletes and celebrities in image ads not to sell products but to ride the coattails of their perceived qualities in the hope that it will rub off on them. Those kinds of ads are now likely gone forever for Woods as Tiger Inc. has self-destructed, costing him hundreds of millions in future endorsement fees.

Before the Nov. 27 car accident that exposed Woods’ alleged serial infidelity, 91 percent of the opinions expressed about him on the Internet were positive, according to Zeta Interactive. As of Saturday, Woods’ positive rating online had fallen to just 41 percent.

That’s bad news for Accenture. The global consulting and outsourcing firm lauded its connections with Woods in a 2006 news release, saying its “Go on, be a Tiger” campaign had boosted its image significantly.

“The world associates Tiger with high performance. He embodies the relentless pursuit of perfection,” James E. Murphy, Accenture’s chief marketing and communications officer, was quoted as saying in that release. The company didn’t return requests for comment Saturday.

Gillette, which uses the slogan “The best a man can get,” said it won’t air advertisements featuring Woods or include him in public appearances. Woods was hired by Gillette in 2007 and has been in ads for Gillette Fusion Power razors with titles like “Phenom” and “Champions” with other stars including tennis great Roger Federer and soccer player Thierry Henry.

“This is supporting his desire to step out of the public eye and we’re going to support him by helping him to take a lower profile,” said Damon Jones, a spokesman for Gillette, a unit of Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble.

He wouldn’t say when – or if – the company would resume ads with Woods. Woods hasn’t been seen in a prime-time television commercial since a Gillette spot on Nov. 29, according to research firm Nielsen Co.

No companies have cut ties altogether to Woods in the weeks since his marital troubles came to light, tarnishing the image of a man who spent 13 years in the public eye carefully cultivating a good guy image. But with the 33-year-old’s decision to leave golf – at least temporarily – they’re now forced to consider their future with him.

“They’re going to hedge, they’re going to buy some time to determine whether or not the situation will turn,” said Rick Burton, former chief marketing officer of the United States Olympic Committee and now a sports marketing professor at Syracuse University.

Woods’ array of endorsements helped him become the first sports star to earn $1 billion, according to Forbes. Michael Jordan, Woods’ closest contemporary, is a distant second at $800 million, amassed during and after an NBA career that spanned nearly 20 years. Basketball star LeBron James has made public his desire to be the next athlete to earn $1 billion. Woods’ time-out could mean more room for James and other athletes to snatch up more endorsements.

Nike Inc. said late Friday it supports his decision. Gatorade, a unit of PepsiCo Inc., said previously it supports Woods and said Saturday it has no updated comment. EA Sports has been selling Tiger Woods video golf games for a decade, and its next edition featuring him comes out in six months, giving it time to see what happens. Watch maker Tag Heuer did not return a call Saturday.

All of these companies are examining their relationships with him, said Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management. He expects they are commissioning research to see how much damage – if any – Woods’ scandal is doing to their brands.

The answer to that may lie in the nature of the product being pitched.

“The ones that would stand to lose the least are sports,” Bernstein said. “The connection with a watch company or a clothing company is much more tenuous and probably more subject to damage than connections to Nike.”

A Wisconsin middle school already has learned Tiger Inc. may not be worth as much as it was a month ago.

The band at the Clintonville middle school had expected to raise $1,600 from an autographed photo of Woods that was auctioned off Dec. 5. Instead, most of the people just shook their heads as they walked by the picture, which finally sold for $300.

“The faces they were making, saying ‘Are you kidding? Why would you do this?”’ said Adam Englebretson, athletic director for the Clintonville district’s high school.

Woods’ earnings prowess also has been cut short. “The sponsors who want to sign him up may be different,” said Larry L. Smith, president of the Institute for Crisis Management. “It may be somebody who wants to market only to men or only to the avid golfer. There may be fewer cross-generational or cross-demographic sponsors.”

Even for Nike, which built its golf business that generates $650 million a year in revenue around Woods, the timing of the scandal couldn’t be worse. “Nike Golf is Tiger Woods,” said Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates PR. “This is the time of year that they should be selling golf clubs for Christmas.”

Mary Le Beau is among the golfers now reluctant to buy Nike equipment or apparel tied to Tiger. “There’s so many choices that you don’t have to give up any quality to go with your conscience,” said the 52-year-old marketer from Green Bay, Wis.

Others at risk of becoming collateral damage include: the television networks that drove up the bidding to show golf tournaments and other professional golfers who have benefited from the quadrupling of prize money since Woods joined the PGA tour in 1996.

The PGA’s contracts with TV broadcasters NBC and CBS expire in 2012, with negotiations on a new deal likely to begin during the second half of next year.

As a measure of Woods’ importance to the PGA Tour, the average television rating fell by nearly 50 percent for a host of 2008 tournaments that Woods missed while he was recovering from knee surgery, according to Nielsen Co.

Expect Americans to root for him when– and if– he does come back, now that he’s positioned himself as less than the champion he’s always been known for being.

“We always root for the underdog,” Smith said. “We all think that everybody has a chance to be successful. It depends how hard somebody is willing to work and what sacrifices they’re willing to make.”

Woods is golf to so many people. But even without him, people won’t lose their interest, said Gary Lynch, sales associate at New York Golf Center.

“Icons come and go,” he said. “This is a big story because of the financial aspect involved and because he set himself up to be a saint.”

Emily Fredrix reported from Milwaukee. AP Business Writers Michael Liedtke in San Francisco; Rachel Beck, Damian Troise, Stephen Manning and Mae Anderson in New York; Sarah Skidmore in Portland, Ore.; and Ryan Nakashima in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”