The winner of 65 PGA Tour events and 14 major championships, Mr. Woods is arguably the greatest, most well-compensated endorser in the world. His five-year, $40 million deal with GM is part of his nearly $100 million in annual endorsement deals with Nike, EA Sports, American Express and Tag Heuer, among others. The GM pact will end Dec. 31.
While current economic conditions are certainly a factor, Mark LaNeve, GM's North American VP-sales, service and marketing, said in a statement that the Big Three domestic automakers' plea for a $25 billion bailout from the federal government had nothing to do with the amicable end of the relationship with Mr. Woods.
"Tiger has been a great friend to GM and a fantastic asset through the years, helping to bring consumer awareness to many new GM products," Mr. LaNeve said. "In light of the news coming out of Washington, this decision is the result of discussions that started earlier in the year, and the timing of this agreement with these other activities is purely coincidental."
But David Carter, principal of the Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group and a sports marketing professor at the University of Southern California, told AdAge.com this morning that current market conditions for the car companies had to have played a role in the decision. "This is probably some combination of prior planning and the need now to not just appear as though you're belt-tightening, but to send a concrete message on how and where you're cutting back," he said.
"But," Mr. Carter cautioned, "This could be the equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bath water."
Mr. LaNeve was recuperating from surgery and was not available for comment. A GM spokesman said the company's statement stands as is. Mr. Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg of Cleveland-based IMG, did not return a phone call for comment at press time.
'We've had fun together'
In the statement, Mr. Woods said, "I am very proud of the longstanding partnership I've had with GM and have enjoyed being a part of the company's dramatic product evolution. We've had a lot of fun together, and I participated in some unique and rewarding activities."
Mr. Woods was most closely associated with GM's Buick brand. He made several commercials on behalf of Buick, and also played as often as he could in the annual Buick Open tournament each summer in Grand Blanc, Mich.
It's not likely he will fill his endorsement portfolio with another car company any time soon, Mr. Carter said. "There's no urgency there," Mr. Carter said. "To quickly realign with another automotive [marketer] doesn't help his brand that much. It makes it look like he needs the money -- which he doesn't -- or he wants to maintain a relationship with the industry itself, and at this point in time that's not a priority with either side."
Of greater concern, Mr. Carter said, is how auto companies will use sports stars going forward. "You have to step back and wonder to what extent any deals being considered are going to be tabled at this point," he said.