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Sponsors give Woods cold shoulder over sex row

NEW YORK, Dec 10 – Tiger Woods, one of the hottest marketing symbols on the planet, is getting the cold shoulder on television where ads featuring the golf star have disappeared since news broke of his philandering.TIGER_WOODS_FACENielsen, the New York-based consumer research company, said the formerly ubiquitous Woods had not appeared in a prime-time TV commercial since a November 29 Gillette ad.

That was two days after his image went into freefall with a car accident outside his Florida home and subsequent revelations of a marital crisis over his alleged affairs with a string of women.

Reports that Woods may have been under the influence of alcohol, a sedative and a pain-killer when he crashed threaten to deepen the crisis.

The last Gillette spot ran during NBC’s much-watched "Football Night in America" and had run a total of eight times in November, all during football telecasts on NBC and "Monday Night Countdown" on ESPN, a Nielsen spokesman told AFP.

Since then, Woods has not been seen in public. The only footage of the golfer — who last week pulled out of his own tournament — has been in salacious media coverage of his sex life.

Sponsorship made Woods sport’s first billionaire.

He earns an estimated 110 million dollars annually from endorsements and prize money, and as long as he remains a top talent at tournaments, sponsors are unlikely to drop him entirely.

But Woods’s stock is visibly falling.

Sports beverage giant Gatorade announced it will stop producing the Tiger Focus drink, although it says this was planned before the scandal erupted.

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Nike, his biggest sponsor, last week said it was standing by Woods. However, in a possible sign of friction, the golfer was reported by celebrity news site TMZ to be axing his appearance as best man at the wedding of his Nike Sales representative.

"Tiger Woods is ‘the face of Nike golf,’" TMZ said in its report. "Whether or not allegations about mistresses are true, Tiger’s image is tarnished."

Evidence of that tarnished image is found in the latest ranking from the Davie Brown Index, which measures celebrities’ standing with consumers.

Woods dropped from sixth to 24th in the more than 2,800-strong DBI database, Chris Anderson, a spokesman for the Los Angeles-based agency, told AFP.

There was more bad news from Washington, where congressman Joe Baca said he was shelving plans to award Woods the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal.

Earlier this year the honor was proposed as a way of celebrating the African-American sportsman’s "service to the nation in… breaking barriers with grace and dignity by showing that golf is a sport for all people."

Perhaps the only silver lining for Woods is that the scandal didn’t break at a peak time for television ads, said Evan Tracey, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group.

"Most of the ads run in the spring and summer months when he is selling sports drinking and golfing equipment. For the marketers, it could have been worse," Tracey told CNN.

Woods was at the peak of his powers as a commercial star, meaning he could pick the products he endorsed and the price he was paid, Tracey noted.

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"Clearly, that is not going to be the case going forward and certainly in the near term and no doubt for a long time."

In Britain, leading golf agent Andrew Chandler said Woods, winner of 14 majors, could still escape the public relations disaster.

"It will take time to repair, but I think it’s doable. Time is a great healer," Chandler said, comparing Woods’s travails to a 2004 scandal involving England football superstar David Beckham.

"I don’t think Tiger will ever be able to be as private as he was, though. He’s got to be more accessible from now on and so become a little bit more real," he said.

"Beckham is the only one I can liken Woods to. He went through pretty much the same thing and it passed in about nine months," said Chandler. "Now he’s a super-hero again who might single-handedly bring the World Cup to England."

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