Tiger Woods' Accident Shakes Advertisers

Many companies rely on Woods' star power to sell products.

Nov. 27, 2009 — -- Word that Tiger Woods was involved in an early morning car accident likely rattled not just fans, but also the broad swath of major corporations that rely on Woods' star power to sell everything from sports drinks, T-shirts and razors to golf tournament tickets.

"I can imagine that the world stopped for Tiger Woods advertisers when they first heard the news and that, literally, their hearts missed a beat," said ABC News sports consultant and USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan.

Woods has earned more than $100 million annually and, according to Forbes, more than $1 billion during his career thus far, thanks, in part, through endorsement deals with companies such as Nike, Gatorade, Electronic Arts, TAG Heuer and Gillette. The companies declined requests for comment from ABC News.

Nike, in particular, has been especially dependent on Woods, said advertising expert Larry Woodard, an ABC News columnist and the CEO of the advertising agency Vigilante.

"Nike wasn't really into golf before Tiger Woods came," he said. "He helped them take a pre-eminent role in golf."

The PGA Tour also has a lot riding on Woods -- he drives ratings for PGA Tour broadcasts like no one else before him, allowing the tour to rake in greater advertising revenues and higher TV ratings.

"Tiger brought a lot of color to the sport both on his skin and his style of play and that's something that the PGA sorely needs," said Boyce Watkins, a finance professor at Syracuse University.

In the short term, companies tied to Woods likely wouldn't lose too much cash if Woods couldn't fulfill his immediate endorsement obligations; corporations take out insurance policies to cover themselves in case of such events.

"I bet you any intelligent corporation that deals with Tiger Woods has conditions in place to protect them in the event that something like this were to happen," Watkins said. "You have to confront the fact that a human being is perishable commodity. It is a commodity that does not come without risk."

Companies, experts say, have to prepare themselves not only for the injuries of star endorsers but also for "moral hazard" problems -- untoward behavior by stars that ultimately leads companies to distance themselves from their celebrity backers. In 2007, for instance, sponsors abandoned football star Michael Vick after he was convicted of running a dog fighting ring.

It's unclear whether moral hazard will prove to be an issue for Woods' endorsement deals. Police said charges are "pending" in connection to the crash, but they provided no details beyond their initial release.

Experts disagree about the long-term implications for advertising in a world where Woods no longer takes the green, club in hand.

Watkins said companies would be limited in how they could use Woods.

Imagine, he said, commercials depicting Woods hitting a ball out of the water or some other similarly difficult golfing feat.

"You can't do those kinds of ads if Tiger isn't playing golf anymore," he said.

Woodard, however, said that, assuming moral hazard wasn't at issue, many companies could emphasize Tiger's legacy even if he was no longer active in the sport.

"Tiger Woods has already performed better, arguably, than any living person," he said. "Even if he didn't swing a golf club again, Nike could make hay as Tiger Woods as an endorser, as could Gatorade."

The only company that might really have to reconsider its use of Woods, Woodard said, is Gillette. If Woods sustained lacerations to his face, as has been reported, it could make the shaving company leery of using him in a razor commercial, he said.

With reports by ABC News' Susan James and Daniel Arnall.