The first major company has quit on Tiger Woods, a move that could set off a domino effect for other corporate sponsors of the world's most beleaguered golfer.
Global consulting firm Accenture Ltd., which used Woods to personify its claimed attributes of integrity and high performance, ended its six-year sponsorship of Woods on Sunday, citing the circumstances of the past two weeks.
"After careful consideration and analysis, the company has determined that he is no longer the right representative for its advertising," Accenture said, adding that the company "wishes only the best for Tiger Woods and his family."
Well wishes or not, it was more bad news for Woods, who crashed his Cadillac Escalade at about 2:25 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving. Neighbors found the athlete shoeless and snoring on the road outside his home near Orlando, next to the wrecked vehicle.
Since then, the police report on the accident raised questions about driving under the influence, and news reports of numerous mistresses prompted Woods to admit he had been unfaithful to his wife.
The 33-year-old golf superstar all but opened a door for sponsors to flee when he announced Friday he was taking a leave of absence from golf and asked for privacy. That "shut-up-and-hide" strategy is exactly what's causing trouble for companies linked to him, said Eli Portnoy, brand strategist with The Portnoy Group, an Orlando-based marketing-consulting company
"There's been no clarity, there's been no cleanup, there's been no effort to move forward," Portnoy said. "He leaves the people who put billions of dollars in his pocket on a very thin rope."
Woods, with an estimated net worth of $600 million, has $110 million in endorsement deals, according to Forbes. In addition to Accenture, Nike and Gatorade, they include TAG Heuer watches, Electronic Arts Inc., Gillette, NetJets and TLC Vision Corp. Up to now, most of the companies have said they have no plans to alter their endorsement deals. One of the risks of advertising tied to a celebrity is that "your image gets carried by someone you can't control," said Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management.
"They definitely understand there's damage," Bernstein said of Accenture.
On Saturday, Gillette said it would stick with Woods but not air advertisements featuring him or include him in public appearances for an unspecified amount of time. Last month, Gatorade announced it was dropping its Woods-themed line of sports drinks but said the decision was made several months before the Escalade crash.
AT&T said Sunday that it continues to evaluate its relationship with the golfer. Watch maker TAG Heuer did not return a call from The Associated Press on Sunday, but its Web site continues to display photos of Woods wearing the Link and Golf Watch models.
Golf legend Annika Sorenstam — an Orlando resident and golf-school operator who has built a commercial empire that includes alliances with such companies as Rolex, Lexus and Merrill Lynch — spoke out for the first time this weekend about Woods' situation on her blog.
"Like most people, I have been following the stories about Tiger that have unfolded the last couple weeks. I have chosen not to address the issue publicly because he and Elin are both friends of mine," she said. "I am disappointed in Tiger's actions and I feel very sorry for Elin and the children. I wish them all the best as they try to work through this privately as a family."
But Woods' wishes for privacy may not mesh well with his corporate sponsors, which have helped make him one of the most recognizable faces in sports history. Golfer Greg Norman, who has had tabloids explore his marriages, gave his opinion to Golf Channel last week.
"Things like that should stay behind closed doors, but then again we are public figures. There are times when people feel like they can reach through the TV screen and say, 'I own you, I know you because I buy a product you represent,'" Norman said. "That's a part of it. You have to accept that responsibility."
Woods' biggest local corporate ally appears to be sticking by him.
Electronic Arts, whose Maitland-based Tiburon studio produces the Tiger Woods golf-video games, said Sunday that its strategy for the Tiger Woods PGA Tour business remains unchanged. The game's next edition featuring Woods comes out in six months.
Companies that are selling Woods' image — rather than his golf skills — are more at risk, said brand strategist Portnoy. Small companies that can't afford to put his ads on the shelf also may need to find an exit strategy, he said.
The current economy doesn't help the position that sponsors are in.
"Marketing dollars are scarce, so they have to make some decisions that maybe three or four years ago they wouldn't," Portnoy said. "It's too risky, way too risky, and the damage is only mounting."
Information from The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times was used in this report. Nick Masuda of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Sara K. Clarke can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5664.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Sentinel Staffer Nick Masuda contributed to this report. Sara K. Clarke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5664.