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Sports Marketing Expert: Lasting Damage to Woods as Endorser

Written by Featured Organization on 18 December 2009.

The Tiger Woods scandal may have a lasting impact on his endorsement potential, says University of Maryland professor Stephen McDaniel, a consumer psychologist who studies sports marketing and fan behavior. http://www.sph.umd.edu/KNES/faculty/smcdaniel/ “A brand such as Nike has historically been less interested in an athlete endorser’s virtue and more interested in their athletic prowess,” McDaniel says.

“However, this will probably not be the case for some of the other companies Wood’s endorses.

“Woods’ endorsements account for a large part of his earnings,” McDaniel says. “His squeaky clean image was an important part of his appeal as an endorser. However, since his recent auto accident and the subsequent revelations, it is difficult to imagine he can ever regain that stature.”
Since Woods’ accident, none of his commercials have aired, McDaniel points out. Industry research shows he has fallen from 6th most popular endorser to 24th, and this could continue to decline. Likewise, a recent “Washington Post” poll showed that over 40 percent of respondents held a negative opinion of him.

“Given the setbacks to his image and his recent decision to take a break from golf, Woods might not be much of an asset to his current sponsors,” McDaniel concludes. “These companies have invested millions in creating ads, many of which feature him golfing. In cases like this, companies often just quit running such ads and let an endorsement contract expire, rather than risk damaging their brand image by associating it with a controversial figure.

“Companies strategically choose celebrity endorsers based on a fit between their image and that of the endorser. By using the endorser in ads, it is a type of paired-associative learning, whereby they hope that consumers will transfer feelings toward the celebrity to the brand. When there’s scandal, companies do not want to risk a transfer of negative feelings.”

MISHANDLING THE PR

“Woods made the classic PR mistake of failing to address the issue early and directly,” McDaniel says. “Instead of speaking through his lawyer or posting statements to his website, he should have arranged for an interview where he could admit his ‘mistakes,’ apologize for hurting his family and letting down his fans, the sport of golf and his sponsors. His failure to do so invited further disclosures and continuing media scrutiny.”

McDaniel points to the example of Kobe Bryant, who apologized for his marital infidelity and got on with his successful NBA career, though Bryant never regained his prior level of endorsements.