Tiger Woods' Sponsors Stay Loyal in Wake of Crash, Infidelity Allegations

Nike, Gatorade, Gilette and EA stick with Tiger following public apology.

ByABC News via GMA logo
December 2, 2009, 1:31 PM

Dec. 3, 2009 — -- Tiger Woods' relationship with the public may have changed forever following a mysterious car crash and a public apology for personal "transgressions," but so far his relationship with some major sponsors has not.

Nike, Gatorade, Gillette and Electronic Arts told ABC News Wednesday that they will continue their relationship with Woods. Nike and Gatorade issued statements Wednesday in support of Woods and his family.

"Our partnership continues," Gatorade said simply in the statement.

But the allegations of infidelity that have set the sports world and the internet ablaze with criticism could have an impact on the multi-million dollar deals, according to ESPN columnist Rick Reilly.

"This thing seems to get a little worse before it gets better... It's kind of like an onion, it just keeps peeling away," Reilly said. "He was making $90 million in endorsements. If he gets hurt a little bit, I'm not going to throw a telethon for the guy."

Reilly compared Woods' ordeal to one of the last major public relations disasters for a sports superstar -- Kobe Bryant's 2003 sexual assault trial.

Though the case was dismissed, Reilly said it took Bryant until last year to recoup some of the sponsorships he lost over the controversy.

"We do live in the land of 24/7 convictions," Reilly told "Good Morning America" today. "But we also live in the world of 24/7 forgiveness. I think people can forgive Tiger. He was pretty spotless from '97 to 2009. There was nothing we had on him."

Other experts told ABC News the incident would not overshadow Woods' dominance on the course.

"He's always going to be Tiger Woods," Boyce Watkins, a finance professor at Syracuse University, told ABC News Wednesday. "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."

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, some 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.