Tiger Woods' Agent: No More Car Sponsors for Tiger

Autos too 'Volatile' -- and Even He Couldn't Save Buick

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Who's on the bag for Tiger Woods now that his endorsement deal with General Motors is over? Well, it won't be another car company.

"Highly unlikely," the golf phenom's agent, Mark Steinberg of IGM told Advertising Age. "In the near term, it's not going to happen. There's too much uncertainty in the industry, too volatile right now," he said, adding: "We had a very good relationship with GM, and it would be disrespectful to rush out and try to sign another automobile sponsor. When we say it was an amicable end, it truly was amicable."

Woods endorsements
Source: Automotive News Data Center
The troubled automaker said last week it is ending its nine-year deal with Mr. Woods a year early. GM's $8 million-a-year deal will conclude Dec. 31 instead of in 2009, as it tries to save every penny it can while lobbying the federal government for $25 billion to bail out the Big Three Detroit car companies.

Surprisingly, it might be a smart move for GM to part with the greatest sports endorser of all time, considering that even the star power of a player with 65 PGA Tour events and 14 major-championship wins to his credit was not able to save the beleaguered Buick brand.

According to figures provided by Automotive News, sales of Buick vehicles were right around the 400,000 mark in 1999, when Mr. Woods signed the first of two five-year contracts with the automaker. But by 2007, yearly sales of the aging Buick brand fell dramatically to 185,791 units. Buick sales through October of 2008 tumbled 23.6% compared with the same 10-month time period last year, much more sharply than the 14.6% drop in car sales that the entire industry is experiencing.

"People always shook their head as to why he did the deal anyway with Buick," said Marc Ganis, president of the Chicago-based sports consultant SportsCorp. "If he's going to do GM, you would have thought Cadillac more than Buick."

In a statement, Mark LaNeve, GM's North American VP-sales, service and marketing, indicated the conclusion of the deal with Mr. Woods was not related to its panhandling inside the Beltway.

Sending a message
"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, said current market conditions for the car companies certainly 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," Mr. Carter said.

Of greater concern, he said, is how other 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."

Mr. Woods, however, should have little trouble replacing Buick. "If Tiger wants another auto industry sponsor, he'll get one. If Tiger wants any sponsor, he'll get one," said Mr. Ganis.

No specifics yet
The golf bag that the Buick logo graced was easily the one that earned the most TV time during broadcasts of PGA Tour events -- and Mr. Steinberg said he expects to have a sponsor on the bag by the time Mr. Woods returns to competitive golf again sometime in March, after rehabilitating his surgically repaired knee.

"It's safe to say I'll be engaged in conversations with different companies," he said. "But we're going to do this like we've always done. We'll maintain the right strategy to find and associate with the right company. We're not under any time constraints."

Mr. Steinberg added that he might not necessarily replace GM by the time Mr. Woods returns to the Tour in three months. Asked if that meant one of Mr. Woods' existing endorsers, such as Nike, Accenture or Tag Heuer, might end up as the sponsor on his golf bag, Mr. Steinberg said, "It wouldn't be fair to discuss specifics right now."

There's no rush -- Mr. Woods hardly needs the $8 million a year from GM. Golf Digest reported that he made $122.7 million last year, most of it coming from nearly $100 million in sponsorship deals.
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