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Another sponsor pulls back from Tiger Woods

GOLF

Tag Heuer will downscale his image on the day the golfer is named player of the year.

December 19, 2009|By Diane Pucin
  • A Tag Heuer billboard with Tiger Woods' image can be seen along Interstate 95 in Daytona Beach. The Swiss luxury watchmaker on Friday joined a growing list of sponsors that are rethinking their use of the embattled golf superstar.
A Tag Heuer billboard with Tiger Woods' image can be seen along Interstate… (Scott A. Miller / US Presswire )

Tag Heuer, the Swiss luxury watchmaker, still had this block of text on its website Friday night explaining why the company has been associated with Tiger 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."

Not anymore.

Tag Heuer on Friday joined a growing list of sponsors that are scaling back or dropping their use of the embattled golf superstar, who last week acknowledged infidelity and began an indefinite hiatus from the sport.

The decision by the venerable Swiss company came only hours before it was announced that Woods was voted PGA player of the year by his peers -- for the 10th time in his 13-year career.

"The partnership with Tiger Woods will continue but we will downscale the use of his image in certain markets for a period of time, depending on his decision about returning to professional golf," Tag Heuer said in a statement released Friday. "We will continue to actively support the Tiger Woods Foundation."

The company, which had initially supported Woods, was paying him $2 million annually, according to the Wall Street Journal. Friday's announcement comes one week after Gillette announced a retrenching of its advertising with the 33-year-old Woods and Accenture, the global consulting firm, ended its six-year relationship with him.

Also Friday, Woods' image on a website banner promoting the Arnold Palmer Invitational PGA Tour event was removed. The tournament is played in Woods' home of Orlando, Fla., and pictures of Woods holding a tournament trophy and another of Woods exuberantly yelling were replaced with images of Palmer.

Scott Wellington, the event's director, said the banner's redesign was "not necessarily" related to Woods' admitted marital infidelity.

"We are always changing the website and keeping it fresh," he said. Woods "is our defending champion and that's not going to change."

Woods, out of respect for Palmer, has made the tournament a regular stop.

Arnold W. "Doc" Giffen, longtime spokesman for Palmer, said Friday from Latrobe, Pa., that he was unaware of changes in the tournament's website logo and that it wasn't something with which Palmer would directly involve himself.

Woods is the most decorated winner in the tournament's history.

It is not known whether he will play in the event, which will be held March 22-28.

Dan Beeman, founder of the Woodland Hills-based Sponsorship Insights Group, a global networking and sponsorship agency, said Woods' unwillingness to take control of the situation "smacks of selfishness."

"Tiger should have come out by now and released all his sponsors from their obligations and publicly rededicated himself to working for his foundation," Beeman said. "Instead he and his representatives are letting his sponsors hang out there and fall like dominoes, one by one."

On its website Friday, Tag Heuer also featured videos of Woods as well as Formula One race car driver Lewis Hamilton, tennis star Maria Sharapova and actor Leonardo DiCaprio -- all speaking about their own values. In his video, Woods says, "We all make decisions. In the end our decisions define us," and it finishes, "My name is Tiger Woods and I share Tag Heuer's values."

Adam Goldberg, an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School who teaches crisis management and communications, said it seems clear that companies are deciding that Woods himself is a brand not worth banking on.

"It's a brand that is no longer what it was," said Goldberg, who suggested that unlike, say, politicians, Woods will have a harder time earning forgiveness from both the public and sponsors.

"Most politicians -- Bill Clinton for example -- had a bunch of people of the opposition who were vocal adversaries and could be made to seem were exploiting issues to the point where it made Clinton sympathetic," Goldberg said. "Tiger doesn't have that benefit. There is no opposition party."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

Times staff writer Bill Dwyre and Orlando Sentinel staff writer Walter Pacheco contributed to this report.

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