Tiger’s Sponsors Need Woods To Win Now

No matter how far Tiger fell, true marketing insiders continued to tell me that he’d be able to make some sort of marketing comeback as long as he started winning.

Tiger Woods
Getty Images
Tiger Woods

And, at least most of them, didn’t seem to have many doubts that he’d start winning soon enough. When Nikechairman Phil Knight told SportsBusiness Journal that “when his career is over, you’ll look back on these indiscretions as a minor blip,” he was assuming that Woods’ game wouldn’t be changed by the time off or that his recently discovered checkered past wouldn't affect his Zen focus.

But here we are in what might be the first real time we can legitimately question whether Woods is the same player that he was before all this unfolded.

Since 2000, Woods has won at least once in the first seven tournaments he has played in each year. The British Open is tournament No. 7 and Woods appears to be like he'll be in the hunt this weekend at St. Andrews.

It’s not that Woods has been that far off. He finished fourth at both the Masters and the U.S. Open, but his inability to close means that those companies which still have him under contract can’t naturally bring him back into the fold.

Nike, for example, has pulled him off the front of NikeGolf.com. The front page this week has had the scripting of Stewart Cink’s outfits for the British Open instead of Tiger’s planned wardrobe. Sure, Cink is the defending champion, but no one will buy his outfits unless he wins again.

Woods’ pictures have been pulled out of stores and he hasn’t been used in the promotion of any new equipment that the company has unveiled.

Nike Golf spokesperson Beth Gast would only say that if Tiger won, the company would have print and digital ads, as they would do for any of the Nike Golf’s other endorsers.

Then there’s EA Sports — the company that has been the most supportive of Woods. The results? Not too good. NPD Group, a market retail tracking firm, has revealed that EA’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’11 sold 32 percent of the volume that the game sold last year in its first month and that the game was not in the top 10 best-selling games in June (beaten by UFC 2010: Undisputed).

“There are a number of factors that have contributed, but we believe the largest of which are the slowing of the overall Wii software market and Tiger’s performance on the course,” EA spokesman Rob Semsey said in a statement provided to CNBC.

But some of my followers on Twitter suggested that they didn’t buy the game because there was less advertising. “I didn’t even know the game came out,” at least two people wrote me.

A spokesman for Procter & Gamble , which stopped actively using Woods for its Gillette brand advertising in the weeks after the scandal unfolded, said the company doesn’t talk about future plans.

They don’t have to say it because it comes off as insensitive if they do, so I’ll say it.

The only thing that will make Tiger more marketable is if he becomes a winner again. If that doesn’t happen soon, some of these deals might expire before they ever use him again.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com