(Reuters) - The marketability of Tiger Woods will suffer following his arrest for driving under the influence, but the former world number one golfer’s current sponsors will likely stay by his side, according to experts.
Woods, who had surgery in April to relieve back pain, blamed the incident on prescription drugs, but that was not enough to keep his droopy-eyed mug shot from being etched in the minds of many who were once captivated by his dominance on the course.
Still, despite his struggles on and off the course, Woods is the greatest golfer of his generation and sponsors like Nike, Bridgestone Golf, Monster Energy and TaylorMade are not likely to rush and cut ties with him, marketing experts told Reuters.
“They have to be very measured in terms of their response to their relation with him,” said David Carter, professor of sports business at the University of Southern California’s Marshal School of Business.
“He may not be delivering value but you could also be doing harm to your own brand if you cut and run on a guy with such global notoriety.”
Woods is second on the all-time list with 14 major titles but a player whose famous fist pump and beaming smile were once a regular site on the PGA Tour has lost his form and barely played in recent years.
Most of his sponsors, when asked by Reuters if they would review their agreements with Woods in light of Monday’s DUI arrest, either did not respond to requests for comment or said it was inappropriate to do so at this time.
Bridgestone Golf, however, said they “will continue to monitor this situation and gather information from the appropriate sources investigating the matter.”
But details of the arrest report which stated, among other things, that Woods was asleep at the wheel of a parked car with the engine running and was disoriented when woken up by a police officer, cannot be sitting well with sponsors.
And with Woods expected to miss the rest of the 2016-17 PGA Tour season after back surgery, his level of appeal to companies may be at an all-time low.
“You can overcome a DUI if you are a big enough star and you keep winning,” said Bob Dorfman, creative director of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco.
“But you can’t overcome not being on the course for months, not winning championships and being pretty much a non entity in the golf world. And that’s what Tiger has become and the prospects don’t look very promising for him.”
This is not the first time Woods has made headlines away from the course. In 2009, a sex scandal turned his previously unblemished life and career upside down.
It also cost Woods a number of endorsement deals, while other sponsors shifted away from using him in marketing but did not end their contracts with him.
Woods could see a similar reaction this time around.
“He’s not playing, he’s not winning and so he has less chips to play with, if you will, in the endorsement game so that clearly makes it even more difficult for him,” said George Belch, marketing professor at San Diego State University.
“But you are still talking about an extremely high profile athlete here who transcended sports in many ways even if his baggage has clearly gotten bigger through the years.”
While the arrest report showed Woods had no alcohol in his system, results of a urine test that have not been released will go a long way in determining Woods’ marketability.
Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College in Massachusetts, said sponsors will likely cut ties with Woods should the results show he was lying.
“The main issue is whether Tiger’s story is accurate. If indeed he is taking multiple medicines and they interacted with each other and knocked him out and he didn’t anticipate it then I think he fully recovers,” said Zimbalist.
“Another part of his ability to rebound and what happens to his legacy is going to be determined by how he comes back as a golfer and nobody knows the answer to that, probably not even Tiger himself.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue, editing by Pritha Sarkar