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

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

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.

Tiger Not the First Sports Star to See Controversy

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."