Gillette to limit Woods’ role in its marketing

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 on 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.

Other sponsors are mulling their options and trying to gauge the

fallout from the man who has become the face of golf, as he drops

off the circuit for an unspecified period.

AT&T said it was 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 a dozen 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. Marketers were drawn to his image as a

clean-cut family man who mourned the death of the father who taught

him the game, doted on his mother and married a former Swedish

model with whom he has two young children.

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.

Nike, which built a golf business that generates $650 million in

annual revenue around Woods, said late Friday that it supports his

decision. As of late Friday, Accenture no longer had the golfer’s

image on a page on its Web site where it had been as late as

Thursday.

Gatorade, a unit of PepsiCo Inc., said previously that it

supports Woods and said on Saturday it has no updated comment.

Gillette’s decision includes phasing out Woods from its

television and print advertising, and from public appearances and

other efforts linking Woods to the grooming company, Gillette

spokesman Damon Jones said.

“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,” he said.

Gillette, which operates from Boston while parent P&G is

based in Cincinnati, has had a contract with Woods since 2007.

Jones declined to provide further details, including length and

value, of the contract.

Woods hasn’t been seen in a prime-time television commercial

since a Gillette spot on Nov. 29, according to research firm

Nielsen Co.

Jones said that was because golf was in its offseason, and the

company was not severing its ties with Woods. There had been no

upcoming scheduled public appearances for Woods, he said.

He declined to comment on when the company would resume

including Woods in its marketing, and would not say whether that

would be linked with the timing of Woods comeback, when and if he

decides to resume playing golf.