PepsiCo's Gatorade has become the first major corporate sponsor to-- a drink called Tiger Focus -- but the company says it made the decision before the golfer's car accident led to a media firestorm surrounding his personal life.
Since the accident outside his Orlando, Fla. mansion in the early morning hours of the day after Thanksgiving, numerous women have come forward claiming to have had a sexual relationship with Woods.
And the hits to his once impeccable image could wind up costing Woods many of the ultra-lucrative endorsement deals he's enjoyed if things don't turn around in a hurry, says Leigh Steinberg, one of the country's leading sports agents.
During his 35-year career, he's represented hundreds of pro athletes in nearly every sport, and was the real-life inspiration for the 1996 movie "Jerry Maguire."
On "The Early Show" Wednesday, Steinberg told co-anchor Harry Smith that, if he were an advertiser whose products Woods endorses, he'd "have a pretty bad ulcer, and I've got my finger on the pulse of American public opinion, using focus groups and public opinion polls to see how bad this death of a thousand cuts really ends up being, because he had the most pristine, squeaky-clean athlete in the world doing major product category endorsements with millions of dollars behind it, for branding in a positive way. And now, it's like, 'Say it ain't true, Tiger.' How does a father explain to his son exactly what the controversy is about Tiger?"
Steinberg says the signs could be ominous: "I think at some point, if this were to continue, then you will see advertisers back away. They don't want to do it right now, because they have so much money invested in this brand. This is the best-known athlete in the world. And he has been a family man and had this incredible image. But, this won't last long if it keeps going.
"I think they (the Woods camp) miscalculated the celebrity-making machine we have that's made up of dozens of magazines and blogs and talk radio. And everywhere across this country, people are talking about this story. And this is not a positive thing."
What would he advise Woods to do to try to repair his image and prevent any more sponsor defections?
"(I'd tell him) to get out in front of this story," Steinberg responded. "The American people love the fall of the high-and-mighty, but they also love a comeback story. He needs to get out front with all the facts and make a public apology to the relevant people, so that the healing can begin and he can put this behind him. Otherwise it will eat him alive."
Steinberg's observations are apparently borne out by some new data showing.
According to Davie Brown Entertainment, which publishes a leading industry index, Woods' status with consumers dropped from sixth to 24th on a list of celebrity endorsers, Bloomberg reports.
More strikingly, Bloomberg reports, prime time television ads featuring Woods have all but disappeared, according to Nielsen Co. data.
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