Did Tiger's Troubles Cost His Corporate Sponsors $12 billion?

A new study by a pair of University of California Davis economics professors suggests that the Tiger Woods scandal has cost his corporate sponsors as much as $12 billion. If the study was correct -- and I think it's silly -- then one might ask: Should Woods compensate his sponsors for their lost value? If so, he'll be in serious financial trouble, because his wife wants half of his $1 billion net worth, which would leave him with a mere $500 million to pay back those sponsors.Who are these professors and what is their angle? Victor Stango, a professor at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management and his colleague, UC Davis professor Christopher Knittel, found that seven of Tiger's publicly-traded sponsors -- including Accenture (ACN); AT&T (T); Electronic Arts (ERTS), maker of Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf; Procter and Gamble (PG), for which he endorses Gillette; Nike (NKE); and PepsiCo (PEP), for which he hawks Gatorade -- lost a total of 2.3%, or $12 billion of their market value, during the 13 trading days between Nov. 27, the date of Woods car crash, and Dec. 17, a week after he left golf.

%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% Also on the list of sponsors -- TLC Laser Eye Centers, which is in Chapter 11 and was delisted from NASDAQ on Dec. 17, coincidentally, the final day of Stango and Knittel's study. It's stock value has been hovering near zero for months, long before Woods' issues came to light.

The study also mysteriously claims to include the stock price changes of Conde Nast (publisher of the Tiger-sponsoring Golf Digest), which is not publicly traded.

Regardless of those minor flaws, I don't think this is the right way to measure the effect of Tiger's departure from golf -- or his fall from his pedestal -- on his sponsors. If the impact of Woods' departure is so terrible, why has Nike stock risen 3.1% since it announced its continued support for him Dec. 11? And why is Accenture stock roughly unchanged since Dec. 11, when it pulled images of Tiger off its website and announced it would discontinue its relationship with him?

These data points suggest that it is poor reasoning to suggest anything more than a weak correlation between a company's stock price and its association -- or lack thereof -- with a sports icon. If Tiger's situation mattered to Nike's stock market value, then one would expect that his departure from golf would cost Nike sales, and its stock would fall accordingly. And if he was so important to Accenture's market value, then the lack of change in that value since Accenture started to separate from Woods would not make sense.

The simple reality is that nobody knows why stocks go up and down. These professors' efforts to relate Woods' troubles to his sponsors' stock market values is good for drawing attention to their work, but I am not sure that their scholarship stands up to the scrutiny.

In my humble opinion, there is probably very little relationship between a sports star's promotion of a company like Nike or Accenture, and that company's financial or stock market performance. It's difficult to make a clear connection between having Tiger as a sponsor and people's decision to buy that company's products or services.

My hunch is that affiliating with a sports star like Tiger is more a balm to management's ego than a boost to the company's financial or stock market performance. It may be similar to a company's decision to put its name on a sports stadium or to build a huge new headquarters building. If Tiger got to be a billionaire by letting his likeness appear in some corporate advertisements, no crime was committed.

Nor is it a crime for these professors to claim that Tiger's misbehavior slashes the stock market value of his sponsors. But this particular snapshot of the markets doesn't do much to illuminate whether superstar spokes-athletes affect the stock values of their sponsors or not.
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