"We no longer see a role for Tiger in our marketing efforts and have ended our relationship," a Gatorade spokeswoman said late Friday afternoon. "We wish him all the best."
Of significance, however, is the fact that Gatorade will continue to support Tiger Woods' foundation. In effect, then, this is a repudiation of Woods while still ensuring that the beneficiaries of Woods' charity don't suffer for his actions. Wise move on Gatorade's part.
There's a clear divide that's sprung up between the sponsors who have stuck with Tiger and the ones who have dropped him. Some sponsors traded on his skill, others traded on his image. Clearly, the ones who traded on his skill -- that would be Nike and Electronic Arts -- have no proven reason to drop him, since this crisis has, in theory, not affected his skills one iota. (The mental effect is yet to be determined, of course.) It's worth noting that neither Nike or Electronic Arts has any kind of feasible alternative in place for Tiger -- John Daly '12 video game, anyone? -- but both companies are betting that Woods will come back strong, at least on the golf course.
However, companies such as Accenture, AT&T, Gillette, Tag Heuer, and Gatorade have used Tiger's image of excellence and dominance to promote their products, and that image is now damaged, perhaps irreparably, certainly for the forseeable future. Any company seeking to attach itself to Woods now will navigate a minefield of potential joke fodder and negative associations. Of all the Tiger ad slogans that took on new meaning in the wake of his disclosures, Gatorade's "Is it in you?" led the list.
That's not to say a new sponsor-friendly Tiger image can't be created, but since most established companies seek calm, competent reliability rather than the damaged goods Woods has become, it'll be quite some time before Tiger can start stacking up new top-shelf sponsors.
Now, Tiger will one day come back, and he'll almost certainly be the dominant golfer of his generation once again. But when he does come back, he'll have a lot of scores to settle ... and now, it looks like he might be drinking Powerade when he does.
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