By Eddie Pells
The Associated Press
Turns out, Tiger Woods wouldn’t really rather have a Buick. At least not anymore.
When Woods ended his nine-year relationship with General Motors Corp. on Monday — a mutual decision between a megawatt celebrity who doesn’t need the work and a teetering corporation that needs every penny — it offered yet another snapshot of how badly the American economy has deteriorated.
Woods is the world’s most marketable athlete with an estimated $100 million endorsements a year. If his agreement with one of the world’s most active sports sponsors broke apart, some experts to wonder if any endorsement or sponsorship deal is really ironclad in these tough times.
“The real story here isn’t Tiger,” says Marc Ganis, the president of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago-based sports consulting firm. “It’s the auto industry. … There are a lot of parties who are going to have some difficulties finding sponsors to substitute for what the auto industry used to provide.”
LeBron James ($28 million in endorsements according to Sports Illustrated’s 2007 figures), Peyton Manning ($13 million) and those in the top-circle elite don’t have so much to worry about because, like Woods, they have multiple deals spread over several industries.
As for everyone else — well, Ganis figures they will feel the pain. If money from the auto industry and financial world dries up, athletes and events that are lower in the pecking order will get thirsty.
“You’ve just got to be much more creative,” said Evan Morgenstein, an agent for gymnast Nastia Liukin, swimmer Dara Torres and other Olympic athletes.
Calls to the representatives of about a half-dozen top-name athletes and their agents by The Associated Press showed that Woods and those in his stratosphere will have very little trouble making endorsement money, even in a rough economy.
Manning is spread into a number of industries — cell phones, satellite TV, electronics, credit cards.
James and Microsoft have ended a two-year marketing partnership, though James’ manager, Maverick Carter, didn’t mention the Microsoft deal earlier this week when he responded to an AP e-mail asking if the economy might hurt James’ endorsements.
“We have long-term deals with great partners who aren’t going anywhere,” Carter said.
James was similarly upbeat.
“I know I have great relationships with the partners that I have,” he said. “All of them are long-term deals, so I can only comment on what I have. And looking forward there’s always going to be deals out there.”