Tiger Woods is taking a hiatus from golf as a first step toward repairing his family and, presumably, his public image.
"I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and children," he said in a statement released late Friday afternoon on his website. "After much soul searching, I have decided to take an indefinite break from professional golf. I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person."
But whether the hiatus offers breathing space to his corporate sponsors remains unclear. Some of them, including Pepsi, Proctor and Gamble, and Gillette, were meeting Friday to decide what to do, according to FoxNews.com.
To many people, the decision might look pretty clear-cut: Reports of a growing number of extra-marital affairs have so damaged the golfing icon that companies should drop him right away. Most marketers apparently agree. If their companies were represented by Mr. Woods, 76 percent of marketers said they'd cancel, reduce, or suspend the business relationship, according to a survey of 600 senior marketers released Friday by the Argyle Executive Forum.
What's surprising is what the other 24 percent would do. Some 22 percent said they would maintain the relationship and 2 percent said they would increase it. Woods's reputation, although severely damaged by reports of extra-marital troubles, apparently retains some corporate value.
Not right now. No Tiger ads have reportedly appeared on American primetime TV since Nov. 29. One reason corporate sponsors might not drop him right away is that "that every move that they make would generate additional publicity," says Anita Elberse, a professor at Harvard Business School. Instead, they may keep him on and quietly drop him when his contract expires.
What about the 2 percent that would increase their relationship? "There are some brands that are more edgy or risqué to begin with," Professor Elberse says, so they might benefit from the scandal.
Others say some of his biggest corporate sponsors can't pull out because Woods is too tied to their brand.
"Nike has 800 million reasons to stay with Tiger – that's the annual revenue he generates for Nike Golf – and other sponsors are similarly situated," Scotland's Daily Record quoted sports marketer Rick Horrow as saying. "So don't look for sponsors to pull out anytime soon."
Much will depend on how well Woods performs if and when he returns to golfing. If he continues to win major championships, then he will probably remain an effective spokesman for golf clubs and other sports equipment. The nonsports endorsements could depend on how well he rebuilds his image off the field. Other sports figures have found redemption after scandals.
"I would like to ask everyone, including my fans, the good people at my foundation, business partners, the PGA Tour, and my fellow competitors, for their understanding," Woods said in his statement Friday.
"It's not quite clear he'll get back to the very clean brand that he was," Elberse says. But "time can change things very dramatically."