SBJ/20080623/This Week's News

Tiger’s injury challenges sponsors

Companies that are aligned with Tiger Woods are already being affected by the announcement that he will be out for at least the remainder of 2008 to recover from knee surgery.

Buick took the fastest hit of all of Woods’ sponsors. The company hosts this week’s PGA Tour stop in Detroit and had to cancel its Tiger Woods-hosted clinic at Comerica Park. He will not take part in the tournament’s 50th anniversary activities as expected.

In addition, Buick shelved a contest that awarded Woods’ courtesy cars and the chance to have him serve as the winner’s caddie. The GM brand has Woods signed through 2009.

The future of consumer promotions with Nike, Gillette and Gatorade were not decided as of late last week.

Despite the necessary moves, Woods’ agent does not expect the injury to further affect his corporate commitments.

Tiger's bum knee lead last week's news.

“Much of his sponsor fulfillment is not centered around golf,” said IMG’s Mark Steinberg. “It’s around entertainment, hospitality and photo shoots. Once he gets through the actual surgery I’m hopeful that he’ll be able to fulfill those obligations. … As long as it doesn’t require playing golf or physical activity I think it’s going to be business as usual.”

Despite the canceled plans and refocused efforts, one agency marketer suggested that Woods’ absence from competition could create more opportunities for brands to leverage the relationship.

“If one of my clients worked with him I would be huddling with my team and IMG to find out how we can utilize him now that his schedule is opened up a little,” said Scott Seymour, senior vice president of golf for Octagon.

Both Nike and Accenture squeezed in pre-planned advertising shoots with Woods last week. Gary Beckner, director of global events at Accenture, said his company’s campaign should break this fall even without Woods playing.

The injury and Woods’ limited annual schedule also might play a part in the PGA Tour’s attempts to extend a crop of title sponsorships. Earlier this year, the tour began working to extend all tournaments expiring in 2010, and almost half of the events in which he regularly plays are part of that group, including all three World Golf Championships, two Buick tournaments and two FedEx Cup playoff events.

Greg Luckman, president of the North American arm of GroupM ESP, said companies looking to renew their deals might push back talks into the first quarter to gauge the likelihood of Woods’ recovery.

“I think it’ll be a little bit of a leveraging point in negotiations,” he said. “If we were in the middle of a negotiation [for an event Woods plays] right now we would definitely be putting in clauses about protections against drops in ratings and attendance.”

Jon Podany, who leads sales efforts on behalf of the PGA Tour, believes Woods’ absence in 2008 will not have much bearing on decisions.

“Are they not going to renew because Tiger Woods is not playing the second half of 2008?” he asked. “I don’t think that’s the way they’re going to think about it. If it’s a year later and he still hasn’t come back, or he came back and it’s clear that this could affect the rest of his career, then I would be more worried.”

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