DETROIT – General Motors Corp. said Monday it is ending its nine-year endorsement deal with golf superstar Tiger Woods as the automaker continues to cut expenses and hoard cash while trying to survive the worst sales downturn in a quarter-century.
The cash-strapped company said in a statement that it is looking to reduce costs, and that the world's No. 1 golfer also wants more personal time as he expects his second child.
Woods has endorsed GM products around the world and mainly has been seen in Buick commercials as the company tried to give the nameplate a more youthful image. He has carried the Buick brand on his golf bag since 2000, and his most recent promotion was to caddie for a contest winner for nine holes at Torrey Pines, where Woods won the U.S. Open this summer for his 14th career major.
The endorsement deal, believed to be worth at least $7 million a year, was to end in 2009. Woods' agent at IMG, Mark Steinberg, said the decision to end the relationship one year early was "absolutely mutual."
"It was a combination of things," Steinberg said. "Tiger was looking to gain some more time, and certainly it was an opportunity for GM to reduce its spending with everything going on."
GM has been making dramatic cuts in advertising as it tries to conserve cash. The nation's largest automaker spent nearly $7 billion more than it took in last quarter and has warned that, without federal help, it may reach the minimum amount of cash required to run the company by the end of the year.
Mark LaNeve, GM's vice president for North American marketing, said GM and Woods started discussing an end to the deal earlier this year, and it had nothing to do with the Detroit Three automakers' quest for $25 billion in federal loans.
But GM's statement said the decision was made as part of "the search for budget efficiencies during a difficult economy for General Motors."
Buick said last week that it would be cutting back on its deal providing courtesy cars at PGA Tour events.
GM is so concerned about costs that it cut advertising during the 2009 Super Bowl, although it still plans to sponsor the National Football League and likely air ads before and after the game. GM also has pulled out of the Oscars and Emmy Awards in 2009 — the first time in over a decade that it is not running ads right before, during or after the two events.
U.S. automakers, the single largest category of advertisers, cut their ad spending 18 percent to $1.37 billion in the second quarter compared with the same period in 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence in New York.
Foreign automakers also are trimming their spending on advertising in U.S. markets, with a 5.4 percent cut in the second quarter, for an overall 11 percent drop in U.S. auto ad spending to $3.27 billion, the 12th quarterly dip in a row.
Woods has carried only two logos on his bag since he turned pro in August 1996. He was with Titleist through 1999 until Buick won a bidding war for its brand on a bag that gets more television time at tournaments than any other golfer.
Woods has not played since season-ending knee surgery after winning the U.S. Open, and he is not expected to return until next year, most likely in early March depending on his recovery.
Steinberg said he would "expect there to be some exposure on the bag" when Woods next plays.
"I've got a few ideas, and we're in the process of working through that," he said.