Tiger Woods is very likely to lose sponsorships after his arrest early Monday morning for driving under the influence, according to PR pros who have worked with star athletes.
The arrest raises more questions about his viability as a corporate spokesperson, especially given the price point for brands to engage him and Woods’ decline as a competitive golfer, says Shawn McBride, EVP for sports at Ketchum Sports & Entertainment.
"This event has given any of his sponsors who have been re-evaluating their relationship with him due to his health, performance or other issues an opportunity to sever ties," he says.
Although Woods failed a sobriety test administered by police, a later breathalyzer test revealed no signs of alcohol in his system. Woods quickly apologized and explained the situation in a statement on Monday evening, saying he understands the gravity of his actions and takes full responsibility for them. Woods said he had an "unexpected reaction" to prescribed medications.
Eight years ago, after allegations of marital infidelity by Woods emerged, brands including Gillette, Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade and Tag Heuer ended their endorsement deals with the golfer, according to Fortune. Other brands, including his most prominent sponsor, Nike, stuck by him—and the sporting goods company will reportedly continue to do so, telling USA Today on Tuesday that it has no plans to sever ties. TaylorMade Golf, Bridgestone Golf, Rolex, Kowa, Upper Deck and Hero Motor Group also have endorsement deals with Woods, according to Forbes.
French|West|Vaughan chairman and CEO Rick French says Woods is most likely to lose his endorsement deal with Japanese pharmaceutical company Kowa, given that he blamed prescription drugs for the incident. Hero Motor Group, an India-based motorcycle maker, could also drop Woods due to the nature of his arrest, he says.
Others are likely to stick with Woods, say experts.
"[Woods] hasn’t played much golf in recent years, but I would guess Nike, Bridgestone and TaylorMade stick with him because he’s a brand in and of himself and he still moves golf-related products," says French.
Experts agree that new sponsors aren’t likely to rush to sign Woods to new deals. Aside from his arrest, Woods has not won a major championship since 2008 and has not had a tour win since 2013. He has played only two times this year and pulled out of an event in February citing a back injury that has required multiple surgeries.
"He’s on the backside of his career and has done enough damage to his reputation that he isn’t the same revenue-driver he was for brand partners a decade ago," says French.
Despite the infidelity crisis that maimed Woods’ image eight years ago and declining skills, Woods remains one of sports’ top earners. In 2009, Forbes reported that Woods had an estimated net worth of more than $1 billion and brought in more than $100 million annually. The magazine now puts that net-worth number closer to $740 million, good for 12th on the rankings of highest-paid athletes of 2016. Woods reportedly earned more than $45 million in endorsement deals alone last year.
MWWPR president Brett Werner notes that golfers have longer shelf lives as endorsers than other athletes. However, Woods’ latest off-the-course incident may negatively influence his appeal even after his playing days are over, he adds. The golfer’s mug shot will also linger in the public consciousness for years, given "the visual-centric world we live in," says Werner.
While experts agree Woods’ arrest will affect his future earnings potential, just how much depends on the way he and his team manage the situation in the coming days. Kevin Elliott, SVP and U.S. risk and crisis communications practice director at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, says Woods must show empathy to rebuild trust with the public.
"He must take ownership of what happened—and then [the public will] want to see a set of responsible behaviors that they will be able to measure in the months and years ahead," he explains. "Failure to move in that direction could mean that the Tiger Woods brand will be discounted—devalued—in perpetuity."
A Rolex representative declined comment. Representatives from Nike, TaylorMade Golf, Bridgestone and Kowa did not return inquiries seeking comment, and representatives from Hero Motor could not be reached for comment. Inquiries to Woods’ longtime agent weren’t immediately returned.