Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and golfing great Tiger Woods help launch… (Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated…)
One of Tiger Woods' major sponsors, Gillette, on Saturday became the first to officially distance itself from the world's most bankable athlete, saying it would phase out its advertisements featuring the golfer while he takes time off to repair his marriage.
"As Tiger takes a break from the public eye," Gillette said in a statement, "we will support his desire for privacy by limiting his role in our marketing programs."
The move comes one day after Woods said on his website that he was taking an "indefinite break" from the PGA Tour after admitting "infidelities." He and Elin Nordegren, 29, have been married for five years and have a 2-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son.
The 33-year-old Woods has been at the center of a storm in the two weeks since he crashed his Cadillac Escalade outside his Florida home.
Since then, a number of women have come forward to claim that they have had sexual encounters with him.
Woods, who earlier this year became the first golfer to reach $1 billion in career earnings, has not been seen in public since the Nov. 27 crash. And according to several media reports, Nordegren, who is Swedish, has purchased a home on an island near Stockholm, where she was born.
It is not clear how many more sponsors might follow suit and officially phase out or pull back advertising featuring Woods. The golfer has deals with a number of companies, including Nike, AT&T, TAG Heuer and EA Sports, worth more than $110 million.
The last prime-time TV ad featuring Woods was a 30-second spot for Gillette on Nov. 29.
But Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pacific 10 Conference, said Saturday that discussions would be held this week about whether to continue running a Pac-10 TV ad that features Woods, who played at Stanford. The ad is one in a series featuring Pac-10 athletes and coaches.
"We're fortunate to have six rotations," Scott said. "We have 30 different athletes or prominent Pac-10 alumni, and we haven't discussed the future yet. We'll continue to rotate and have further discussions."
Rick Burton, onetime brand manager for Miller Beer and former chief marketing officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said Saturday that it wasn't unexpected that Nike was not abandoning Woods, but that it wouldn't be surprising to see other major sponsors take a break from him.
"Now he's not playing golf at all, he's thought to have been involved in multiple extramarital affairs," Burton said. "Now it looks like a bad matchup for certain brands like TAG Heuer and Accenture, the global management consulting firm. Companies such as those need Tiger out on the course to fulfill their perception of his value to brand positioning."
Dan Beeman, founder of the Woodland Hills-based Sponsorship Insights Group, a global networking and sponsorship consulting agency, said that he wondered whether Woods' downfall might encourage companies to abandon the idea of a lone athlete as spokesman.
"People have flaws," he said. "There is no perfection. What drove Tiger to success also drove him to failure -- that confidence in himself as a great athlete led to a feeling of invincibility in all aspects of his life.
"Now he needs to get in touch with the other side and understand vulnerability."
It is unclear whether Woods will miss any of the major tournaments in 2010. He is chasing Jack Nicklaus' all-time record of 18 career wins in the four biggest events: the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship.
Woods has won 14 majors. This year's schedule of big tournaments begins in April with the Masters at Augusta National, where Woods has won four times.
Now Woods' career is in abeyance. The U.S. PGA Tour has scheduled 33 tournaments on network television in 2010. An additional 10 are to be on the Golf Channel. When Woods missed the second half of the 2008 season, TV ratings dropped more than 47%.