Tiger the Pitchman far from out of the woods

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,

a Nike executive 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.

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AP Retail Writers Ashley Heher in Chicago, Emily Fredrix in St.

Louis and Mae Anderson in New York contributed to this report.