- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 13, 2009

One of Tiger Woods’ major sponsors won’t feature the world’s most valuable athlete in its marketing while he takes time off to repair his personal life.

Gillette’s announcement Saturday marks the first major sponsor of the superstar athlete and corporate pitchman to distance itself from Woods.

“As Tiger takes a break from the public eye, we will support his desire for privacy by limiting his role in our marketing programs,” said Gillette, a division of Procter & Gamble.

As Woods drops off the circuit for an unspecified period, other sponsors are mulling their options and trying to gauge the fallout from the man who has become the face of golf.

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.

“I think you will see the handful or so of companies that he has relationships with doing some real soul searching and making some probably, for them, difficult decisions in the next few days,” said Larry L. Smith, president of the Institute for Crisis Management, in Louisville, Ky.

Late Friday, Woods announced an indefinite leave from golf and public life to try to rescue his marriage after two weeks of intense coverage of his infidelity sullied his carefully cultivated good guy image. The decision and contrite tone of his statement was seen by marketing experts as a smart step to repairing his public image. His previous brief and vague statements on the matter were criticized as insufficient to quell the intense scrutiny and to lessen the damage from more than a handful of women who claim to have had affairs with him.

“It’s just like your most beautiful fashion brand is being trashed,” said John Sweeney, director of sports communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “I don’t expect Tiger to be the gold standard anymore, but he’s not going out of business. … He’s too big and too talented to be fired, but he will have significant declines from what he was.”

Woods, 33, spent 13 years burnishing his personal brand.

His good looks and multiracial heritage gave him broad appeal. His domination of the game and fist-pumping flair for the dramatic established his tournament appearances as must-see TV. His work ethic is admirable.

Woods is the pitchman for brands ranging from AT&T; to Accenture to Nike. His array of endorsements helped him become the first sports star to earn $1 billion. Michael Jordan, Woods’ closest contemporary, is a distant second. Jordan has accumulated about $800 million during and after an NBA career that spanned nearly 20 years, according to Forbes.

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