Upper Deck, EA Sports, Nike Continue Tiger Woods Relationships

Despite corporate giants Accenture, AT&T and Proctor and Gamble distancing themselves with Tiger Woods based on his admitted infidelity to his Swedish wife Elin Nordegren, other prominent companies are standing by the #1 ranked professional golfer in the world.

Upper Deck, EA Sports and Nike all announced continued support for the philandering golfer in the face of revelations of his numerous alleged extramarital affairs that have devastated his family and professional life.

The Upper Deck Company signed Tiger to an exclusive spokesperson / signature agreement in 2001. Upper Deck, a long time manufacturer of sports trading cards, and Upper Deck Authenticated, its memorabilia and collectibles division, announced December 15, 2009 that both entities would continue their industry-exclusive relationships with the world’s top golfer.

“Upper Deck will maintain its exclusive agreement with Tiger in both our sports cards and memorabilia categories, and we look forward to his eventual return to the PGA Tour,” Upper Deck Chief Executive Richard McWilliam said. “Tiger and his family have our full support.”

Since 2001, Tiger and Upper Deck have brought golf trading card collecting and golf memorabilia sales to new heights never before seen by the golf world.

The Tiger Woods scandal has become a full-fledged international media frenzy. Many collectors and golf fans wonder what the future will hold for Tiger. How will the scandal impact his All-American image long term both on and off the course? Will his autographed memorabilia and licensed products take a significant negative hit? At this point, it is too soon to know.

Taking an “indefinite leave of absence” from the PGA Tour to concentrate on family reconciliation has been perceived as the right move in this time of personal and professional crisis. However, nobody knows when Tiger will play again and when he does, will he be the dominant player we have known him to be?
The consensus amongst collectors is that regardless of his off-the-course indiscretions, Tiger must come back, play and win majors. No PGA player has won more majors (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship) as a professional than Jack Nicklaus, who has 18. At 34 years old, Tiger has been closing in on Jack since his first major victory at the 1997 Masters. With 14 majors, Tiger has a legitimate shot to surpass Jack, practically guaranteeing him to be considered the greatest player ever to play the game.

Nike chairman and co-founder, Phil Knight was recently quoted as saying, “When his career is over, you’ll look back on these indiscretions as a minor blip, but the media is making a big deal out of it right now.”

The PGA Tour regular season kicks off January 7 -10th at the SBS Championship at Kapalua, Hawaii. Since we haven’t heard from Tiger or his management, the question is how long will his leave be and will he be back to compete in the first major of the year, the 2010 Masters, April 8-11th?

It is apparent that companies who are directly involved with the golf industry, such as Nike, Upper Deck and EA Sports, will continue to support Tiger Woods because he has such a direct impact on their sales. But companies that were looking for corporate branding opportunities, such as Accenture, AT&T and Proctor & Gamble, will cut, run and consider alternative creative strategies.

Despite the crushing blow Tiger is taking in recent public opinion polls, EA Sports announced January 5th they will release their new PGA Tour Online game with Tiger Woods prominently displayed on the front cover.

“Our relationship with Tiger has always been rooted in golf,” EA Sports President Peter Moore said. We chose to partner with Tiger in 1997 because we saw him as the world’s best, most talented and exciting golfer.”

Long time public relations manager for Upper Deck, Terry Melia would not comment on the terms of Tiger’s agreement or amount Upper Deck guaranteed him, when asked, but said, “As of today, we are still maintaining our existing, exclusive contract with Tiger Woods. Nothing has changed.”

The brand damage Tiger has inflicted on himself, the PGA, his corporate partners and the hurt and humiliation he has caused his family is still being assessed and might not be fully understood for some time.

Maybe Phil Knight is right. Five to ten years down the road maybe nobody will care about Tiger’s indiscretions. All we will care about is that Tiger surpassed Jack for the most majors ever won by a professional golfer. I’m jumping ahead, but that is what golf collectors and fans were counting on when they purchased the Tiger Woods memorabilia, Nike equipment and/or EA Sports Online game. The problem now is we may not know all there is to know concerning Tiger’s behavior and character and that could be too much to bear even for the companies that are standing by him during this trying time.

Only time will tell.