Athletic brands aren’t afraid to sever ties with a star endorser if they’re involved in something embarrassing or with serious consequences. But Nike shouldn’t part ways with golfer Tiger Woods following his Monday arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence.
According to multiple reports, Woods failed a field sobriety test after he was on the side of the road in his 2015 black Mercedes-Benz in Jupiter, Fla., at 2:03 a.m. ET. Reports also stated Woods needed to be woken up by police and that the golfer said he didn’t know where he was. The breath blood alcohol test that was administered at the scene, according to multiple reports, showed he had no signs of alcohol in his system (Woods blew a 0.00).
After the arrest, the golf icon issued a statement announcing that alcohol was not involved in the incident and that the cause of his state was “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.”
Despite Monday’s arrest, Nike should stick by Woods. And according to industry insiders, the brand is likely to.
“Nike has a history of standing by their athletes, so I doubt they will drop him,” said Matt Powell, VP and sports industry analyst with The NPD Group.
Nike didn’t drop Woods after his cheating scandal broke in November 2009, although several other of his brand sponsors did, including Gatorade, AT&T and Accenture.
And while other high-profile athletes who made headlines for the wrong reasons were given the boot by Nike, some were retained by the Swoosh. Former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant remained with Nike throughout his sexual assault case that broke in July 2003. And NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who spent time in prison for his role in a dogfighting ring, was dropped by Nike in 2007 and later re-signed with the brand in 2011 after his football career resumed.
Woods’ position as an icon in his sport, and the legitimacy he gives to Nike in golf, is why the brand should keep him on board.
“Woods is and will be a legend in the game. I think he remains an asset to brands, although not nearly what he was when he was playing,” Powell said.
Although he has played poorly in recent years (when he actually gets on the course), Woods is one of the greatest golfers to ever play the sport. Woods is a 14-time major winner, is an 11-time PGA Player of the Year and was named the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 1996.
However, the situation is still fresh and should be monitored by Nike. If information surfaces that could paint a negative portrait of Woods, and if irreparable damage has been done to his reputation, it may be time to separate itself from the golf icon.