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Published: Sunday, 12/13/2009

Gillette distancing itself from Woods

ASSOCIATED PRESS

One of Tiger Woods' major sponsors won't feature the world's most valuable athlete in its marketing while he takes time off to repair his personal life.

Gillette's announcement yesterday marks the first major sponsor of the superstar athlete and corporate pitchman to distance itself from Woods.

"As Tiger takes a break from the public eye, we will support his desire for privacy by limiting his role in our marketing programs," said Gillette, a division of Procter & Gamble.

Other sponsors are mulling their options and trying to gauge the fallout from the man who has become the face of golf as he drops off the circuit for an unspecified period.

AT&T said it is evaluating its relationship with the golfer. Representatives from Accenture won't say what its plans are regarding Woods, whom the consulting firm has used to personify its claimed attributes of integrity and high performance.

"I think you will see the handful or so of companies that he has relationships with doing some real soul searching and making some probably, for them, difficult decisions in the next few days," said Larry L. Smith, president of the Institute for Crisis Management, in Louisville.

Late Friday, Woods announced an indefinite leave from golf and public life to try to rescue his marriage after two weeks of intense coverage of his infidelity sullied his carefully cultivated good guy image. The decision and contrite tone of his statement was seen by marketing experts as a smart step to repairing his public image. His previous brief and vague statements on the matter were criticized as insufficient to quell the intense scrutiny and to lessen the damage from more than a handful of women who claim to have had affairs with him.

Woods, 33, spent 13 years burnishing his personal brand.

Woods is the pitchman for brands ranging from AT&T to Accenture to Nike. His array of endorsements helped him become the first sports star to earn $1 billion. Michael Jordan, Woods' closest contemporary, is a distant second. Jordan has accumulated about $800 million during and after an NBA career that spanned nearly 20 years.

Nike, which built a golf business that generates $650 million in annual revenue around Woods, said late Friday it supports his decision. Accenture no longer has the golfer's image on a page on its Web site.

Gillette's decision includes phasing out Woods from its television and print advertising and from public appearances and other efforts linking Woods to the grooming company.



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