Concerns Mount Among Tiger’s Sponsors

Published December 21, 2009

NEW YORK — An embattled Tiger Woods faced a dwindling roster of sponsors Saturday, after Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer said it was dropping its U.S. advertising campaigns featuring the golf champion.

Tag Heuer's move came in the footsteps of consulting firm Accenture ending its six-year deal with the golf superstar and razormaker Gillette dropping him from its advertising, after the 33-year-old Woods took an indefinite break from the sport and acknowledged infidelity.

 "We recognize Tiger Woods as a great sportsman but we have to take account of the sensitivity of some consumers in relation to recent events," Tag Heuer chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin told Swiss newspaper Le Matin on Friday.

 But he emphasised that the break in the use of Wood's image in the United States alone was "momentary" and that the company, a unit of French luxury goods empire LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, would continue to back Woods's charity foundation.

 A statement still on the company's Web site early Saturday paid tribute to Woods -- "his personal obsession with results and perfection, his ability to withstand pressure, to meet expectations and exceed them, but also his love of discipline -- all this makes him a natural partner for the brand."

 A string of alleged affairs with at least 14 women -- including a porn star and a cocktail waitress -- have decimated the 14-time major champion's squeaky-clean image.

 The golfer's wife Elin -- a former Swedish model -- hired famed Hollywood divorce attorney Sorrell Trope, according to a report on Friday, as details emerged about a 2007 deal between a US magazine and Woods to hush extra-marital affair.

 Promoters were behind 90 percent of the funding that made Woods the first sports billionaire, but his power as a marketing juggernaut unraveled long before his confession of extramarital affairs one week ago.

The firestorm, which erupted on November 27 after Woods crashed his Cadillac Escalade SUV into a tree and a hydrant just outside his home, entered a fourth week with no end in sight and sponsor support eroding.

AT&T, which backs the US PGA Tour event operated by the golfer's foundation, is re-evaluating its relationship with Woods.

Yet US sportswear giant Nike, which pays Woods an estimated 40 million dollars a year, still backs him as it has since his 1996 pro debut, with chairman Phil Knight telling Sports Business Journal the unfolding saga is a small problem.

"When his career is over, you'll look back on these indiscretions as a minor blip, but the media is making a big deal out of it right now," Knight said.

An image of Woods was removed from a Web site banner for the Arnold Palmer Invitational PGA tour next March in Orlando, Florida. It was replaced with photographs of Palmer, a legendary golfer known as "The King."

Despite all of the damaging revelations that emerged in recent weeks, players named Woods the PGA Tour player of the year on Friday for the 10th time in 13 years.

Woods won six tournaments this year, including the FedEx Cup and its 10-million-dollar bonus, but failed to win a major title.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the National Enquirer kept quiet about a Woods affair in 2007 in exchange for rare access for a cover story to sister publication Men's Fitness.

Under terms of the deal, the Enquirer would not publish photographs and a story on Woods having an extra-marital affair, while the golfer agreed to a cover and photo spread in Men's Fitness, the Journal reported, citing unnamed sources.

American Media, Inc., which owns both publications, denied such a deal took place in a letter to the Journal. Woods agent Mark Steinberg declined to comment to the newspaper.

 

Written by <P class="ap-story-p">The Associated Press</P> <P class="ap-story-p"><BR>&nbsp;</P>

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