Tiger's Return: Can He Bring The Brands Back?
From the moment he first swung a golf club, Tiger Woods has drawn attention. At the ripe old age of two, Woods was featured on the "Mike Douglas Show," putting against comedian Bob Hope. At three, he shot a 48 for nine holes at the Cypress Navy course. And by the time he entered the first grade - when many kids are still eating paste and coloring outside the lines - Woods had already been featured in Golf Digest, as well as on an episode of ABC's "That's Incredible." Yet, it was when Woods' wife Elin Nordegren swung a golf club in the early morning hours of November 27, 2009, that Woods received the most attention of all. (Catch up on this week's top financial news in Water Cooler Finance: Auto Hope, Bubbling Oil and Obamanomics.)

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The Crash
The stories were spotty and largely inaccurate at first.

"Tiger Woods was injured early Friday when he lost control of his SUV outside his Florida mansion, and a local police chief said Woods' wife used a golf club to smash out the back window to help get him out," ESPN reported following the incident. (Find out how you can use golf strategies to score a winning portfolio in Play The Market Like Tiger Plays Golf.)

Sgt. Kim Montes, a spokeswoman for the Orlando Police Department, told reporters on-scene that the accident was a "traffic crash," adding "we don't believe it is a domestic issue."

Two days after the wreck, however, Woods offered a mea culpa that seemed a bit extreme for a mere traffic incident.

"I'm human and I'm not perfect," Woods said.

Less than a week later, Woods' statement began to make sense after Us Weekly revealed that a Los Angeles cocktail waitress, Jaimee Grubbs, had carried on a 31-month affair with the world's top golfer. By January 23, Woods' tally of "imperfections" stood at 19, following the revelation that he reportedly paid 42-year-old Emma Rotherham half-a-million dollars in exchange for her silence about their extramarital fling. As these details emerged, it became increasingly clear that Nordegren's late-night tee time may have a less benevolent motive.

Financial Fallout
Meanwhile, Woods' image as a product pitchman was fading faster than the hopes of Cubs' fans in the fall. On December 13, Accenture (NYSE:ACN), a global management consulting and technology services firm, ended its sponsorship arrangement with Woods saying he was no longer the "right representative" for the company. AT&T (NYSE:T) quickly followed suit, as did Gatorade. General Motors, which had been providing Woods with free loaner cars, also severed ties with the fallen golf star.

As Woods was losing large chunks of the estimated $100 million he earned annually from endorsements, investors in the companies he represented were also getting clubbed over the head. According to a study conducted by economics professors Victor Stango and Christopher Knittel of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, "shareholders of Nike, Gatorade and other Tiger Woods sponsors lost a collective $5 to $12 billion in the wake of the scandal involving his extramarital affairs." (For more on this story, check out The Tiger Woods Effect - $12 Billion Wiped Out.)

"Total shareholder losses may exceed several decades' worth of Tiger Woods' personal endorsement income," noted Stango.

The professors arrived at their conclusions by analyzing stock market returns for the 13 trading days between the date of the car crash that brought Woods' indiscretions to light and December 17, one week after the golfing legend announced his "indefinite" leave from the sport. To determine shareholder losses, Stango and Knittel compared the equity value of Woods' sponsors during this period to those of the stock market as a whole and to each sponsor's closest rival.

Teed Off
But does the UC Davis study really prove anything? After all, stock market prices are dynamic, not static. Gatorade, a product of PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), which Stango and Knittel identified as one of the companies most hurt by Woods' extramarital escapades, recovered all of its losses - and then some - barely two weeks after the professors made their findings public. In fact, through April 6, PepsiCo is up 5% since news of the Woods scandal first broke, while AT&T and Accenture are relatively unchanged. Ironically, Nike, one of the few companies that retained Woods as a spokesperson, has made the biggest "recovery." Since November 27, shares in the athletic shoe retailer have appreciated 13%.

Thus, as Woods resumes his career in the Masters, the only one that appears to have been hurt by his off-the-links high jinks (other than his family) is the golfer himself. In addition to the sponsorship deals he has lost, it is possible that Woods' reputation will never fully recover. A recent article in BusinessWeek noted that, according to a survey by the branding agency Millward Brown, just 2% of people surveyed had a negative impression of Tiger Woods before his crash. By December, that number had risen to 80%.

Hey, with poll numbers like that, maybe Woods should forget about golf and run for political office. (For more examples of athletes gone wild, check out Stupid Athletes' Moves That Threatened Their Fortunes.)

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