Image: Tiger Woods apologizes.
NBC News
Tiger Woods holds a news conference. Amy Reynolds, far right, a representative of Nike, looks on.
updated 2/19/2010 1:32:44 PM ET 2010-02-19T18:32:44

There are a lot of unanswered questions that will come out of Tiger Woods’ news conference, but the most valuable one focuses on how indefinite the world’s best golfer was about his return.

“I do plan to return to golf one day,” Woods said. “I just don’t know when that day will be.”

Think about that. Imagine if you are Nike and you’ve based your golf business on Tiger.

On the record, Nike Golf spokesperson Beth Gast said this in a statement: “Tiger has apologized and made his position clear. Nike fully supports him and his family. We look forward to him returning to golf.”

Now imagine how Nike executives really feel – having launched a club line without him in late January and having planned and softly sold an entire year of apparel launches around what he’ll wear in the majors.

My initial reaction was to think that Nike will reduce its payments to Woods until he comes back. But a former Nike insider told me that’s not likely going to happen. “When Nike says its loyal to an athlete, it’s at every level, including compensation,” said Vada Manager, who worked for Nike for 12 years, last as senior director of global issues management, before leaving to start his own company, Manager Global Consulting in May. "Remember, some of the contract has to do with royalties, so if product isn’t moving, it will affect that, but I find it difficult to believe they’d reduce his base contract.”

Manager said that while Tiger’s other sponsors might want to lower his compensation while he’s not working for them, he says it could rub Team Tiger the wrong way. Therefore, Manager said, some companies might want to decide whether Tiger could help them in the future and potentially discuss dropping him altogether before making the move to reduce his endorsement salary.

Slideshow: Cartoons: Tiger returns to golf

Manager, however, doesn’t advise any company to drop Tiger.

He thinks that Tiger is going to win again and companies are going to want to be a part of that.

“Because of the long career horizon, the better comparison here isn’t another athlete,” Manager said. “It’s someone like Ted Kennedy, who had Chappaquiddick in his thirties as a senator, but recovered to become one of the most effective and revered senators in history.”

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