GM ends 9-year endorsement relationship with Tiger Woods

ByLaura Petrecca, USA TODAY
November 25, 2008, 9:48 AM

DETROIT -- As cash-strapped General Motors gm looks for ways to slice expenses, it's parting ways with long-time pitchman Tiger Woods.

The ailing auto giant said Monday that it will end its nine-year relationship with the world's No. 1 golfer Dec. 31. Woods' contract with GM was set to expire Dec. 31, 2009.

Woods has carried the Buick brand on his golf bag since 2000, and his most recent promotion was to caddie for a contest winner for nine holes at Torrey Pines, where Woods won the U.S. Open this summer for his 14th career major win.

In a statement, GM said the separation was "mutual and amicable" and that Woods had a "desire for more personal time."

The golf great, who still does endorsements for other brands, such as Gillette and Gatorade, had knee surgery earlier this year. And he and his wife are expecting a second child.

The latest five-year deal with GM was believed to be worth at least $7 million a year. Woods' agent at IMG, Mark Steinberg, said the decision to end the endorsement a year early was "absolutely mutual."

Woods has mainly touted GM's Buick brand. But even with the endorsement of the top-ranked golfer, Buick has hit some bumps. Sales are down 23.6% through the end of October compared with the period last year, according to industry tracking firm AutoData. The entire auto industry is down 14.6%.

The parting comes as GM tries to reverse its woeful financial performance. Earlier this month, it reported a $2.54 billion third quarter loss, and so far this year has lost $21.26 billion. CEO Rick Wagoner plans to cut $15 billion in structural costs, such as payroll and utilities.

Separate from that, GM has said its marketing department would cut 20% from its spending. The break with Woods falls under those cutbacks, says GM spokesman Pete Ternes.

GM will maintain its other golf-related tie-ins such as sponsorship of the Buick Open and the Buick Invitational. But it will cut spending during those events, says Ternes. For instance, it will reduce catering costs and limit the number of courtesy cars it provides for players.

The marketing department is looking at "anything (it) can do to help cash flow," Ternes says.

GM has also slashed spending on other big-name sports and entertainment events. After years of advertising on both the Super Bowl and Academy Awards, it will opt out of both next year.

GM's vice president for North American sales, Mark LaNeve, says the separation is the result of discussions earlier in the year and is not related to the company's campaign for $25 billion in loans from the federal government.

Woods has carried only two logos on his bag since he turned pro in August 1996. He was with Titleist through 1999 until Buick won a bidding war for its brand on a bag that gets more television time at tournaments than any other.

Woods has not played since season-ending knee surgery after winning the U.S. Open, and he is not expected to return until at least early March.

Steinberg said he would "expect there to be some exposure on the bag" when Woods next plays.

"I've got a few ideas, and we're in the process of working through that," he said.

Contributing: USA TODAY reporter Sharon Carty in Detroit; Associated Press.

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