Tiger Woods' Sponsors Stay Loyal to Golf Champ

Woods still will rake in tens of millions through big endorsement deals.

December 2, 2009, 1:31 PM

Dec. 2, 2009 — -- Tiger Woods' reputation as a squeaky-clean model athlete may be on the rocks, but it looks as if his ability to rake in tens of millions of dollars a year through endorsement deals will remain intact.

Four of Woods' sponsors -- Nike, Gatorade, Gillette and Electronic Arts -- tell ABC News that they will continue their relationship with Woods.

Nike and Gatorade issued statements today in support of Woods and his family. To experts and Woods watchers, the news isn't unexpected.

"He's always going to be Tiger Woods," said Boyce Watkins, a finance professor at Syracuse University. "He may have a tarnished legacy ... [but] there' s absolutely no way you can take away the fact that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer in the history of all mankind."

In the wake last week's mysterious car crash and rumors that Woods engaged in extramarital affairs, the golf champ issued a statement today apologizing for "transgressions" and for not being "true to my values and the behavior my family deserves."

Woods' unparalleled golf success and his once-impeccable reputation as a solid family man propelled him to the top of many corporations' wish lists as a star endorser. He has earned more than $100 million annually and, according to Forbes magazine, more than $1 billion during his career thus far, thanks partly to endorsement deals with companies such as Nike, Gatorade, Electronic Arts, TAG Heuer, Accenture and Gillette. Previous Woods endorsement deals included ones with Buick, General Mills and Titleist.

Woods' suspected affairs won't endanger his existing endorsement contracts, experts say, for a number of reasons. For one thing, Woods' domination of professional golf -- he has won 93 tournaments, 71 of them on the PGA Tour -- means he's still an attractive spokesman for brands seeking to align themselves with top performance.

"I think if Tiger returns to the course and continues to dominate the sport, I think a lot of the stain of this past week will wear away," said Forbes associate editor Kurt Badenhausen.

Badenhausen also noted that, as far anyone knows, Woods hasn't committed an actual crime, unlike other sports celebrities who lost sponsorship deals. Football star Michael Vick, for example, served jail time on charges of running a dogfighting ring.

"The public is certainly willing to forgive and forget," Badenhausen said.

Badenhausen compared Woods to basketball great Michael Jordan, who made headline for cheating on his wife in 1990s.

"He had his own transgressions, but he continued with very lucrative endorsement relationships with Nike and Gatorade," Badenhausen said.

The amount of money the companies already have made thanks to Woods will also make them less likely to walk away, he said. Nike, which pays Woods an estimated $35 million per year, has built its $800 million golfing business exclusively through Woods. Electronic Arts has enjoyed great success with a top-selling Tiger Woods-based video game.

Not all, however, will remain the same in the corporate world revolving around Woods. The companies who have hitched their wagons to Woods likely will pay at least some price for the controversy, said advertising expert Larry Woodard, an ABC News columnist and the CEO of the advertising agency Vigilante.

Woodard, who worked on Buick's Woods campaign, said that Woods' reach to consumers has narrowed. Where parents might have outfitted their children in Nike from head to toe because of Woods' endorsement, now they might think twice, Woodard said.

"Now all of a sudden, you've got this morality issue that can't be ignored because the press is all over it," Woodard said. "Now you, as a parent, have to make a decision: 'What do I say to my kid?'"

Older, more conservative Woods fans, he said, also may be turned off.

As a result, experts said the controversy means that Woods' future contract negotiations might yield less lucrative results than deals he struck in the past.

Still, some say, the change may be minimal.

"If he's predicted to make $120 million next year, he may actually only make $105 [million]," Watkins said. "Is that such a bad thing? It's all relative."