It's hard to ignore the timing of Pepsico (PEP) brand Gatorade's announcement Tuesday that it would discontinue Gatorade Tiger ® Focus sports drink (just like regular Gatorade, but in special Tiger Woods flavors and with 25% more electrolytes). On the Gatorade press site, several recent releases still announce excitement over the drink's launch; the golf star is quoted as saying, "I've experienced a lot of amazing moments in my golf career, but Gatorade Tiger is taking me someplace I never imagined with this campaign."

Where it has taken him, specifically, is to December 2009, the month in which, thus far, the number of Woods' rumored mistresses continues to exceed the date. (Writing on December 9, we're at 10, according to gossip site TMZ.) In this week's special at local Kroger (KR) Fred Meyer stores --10 32-ounce containers of Gatorade Tiger for $10 --Tiger's eyes stare out from bottles of Cool Fusion citrus blend and Quiet Storm grape blend with the famous steely gaze that now seems a little creepy.

What's most unusual about this story is that, despite all appearances to the contrary, the move by Pepsi seems to have absolutely nothing to do with Tiger's very public marital problems. The drink's discontinuance was reported in industry rag Beverage Digest in the issue dated Nov. 25, 2009, as part of a major story about Pepsi's planned changes to the line, titled "Major Changes Coming For Gatorade. PepsiCo Creating New Three-Part Product Line. Company Plans to Refocus Gatorade Beyond Sports Drinks to 'Sports Performance Innovation.'"

According to Beverage Digest's editor, he learned of the changes at Gatorade on Nov. 9, before Elin Nordegren had even gone through Tiger's phone, sparking the infamous voicemail message. A company representative said in a statement, "We decided several months ago to discontinue Gatorade Tiger Focus along with some other products to make room for our planned series of innovative products in 2010." Furthermore, Pepsi says sales of Tiger Focus were down 34% in 2009, through October.

In fact, according to Gatorade's Nov. 30 statement, the company's relationship with Tiger will continue despite the end of the Tiger Focus brand. Gatorade's PR representative told DailyFinance that Woods and his management team had been informed that the product line would be changing before the scandal sparked by his Escalade accident began; asked what his opinion of the change was, we were told, "I cannot comment for Tiger Woods."

Sports drinks are becoming less attractive as consumers have become increasingly suspicious of high fructose corn syrup and other chemically-altered ingredients, and Pepsico as a whole begins to look toward "real sugar" (typically, cane sugar syrup) to sweeten its drinks. Although Gatorade Tiger Focus only contains 25 calories per eight-fluid-ounce serving, high fructose corn syrup is the second ingredient; a red flag for many consumers looking for more natural sweeteners. Gatorade wouldn't comment on speculation that removing HFCS is one of the reasons for the changes to the product line.

Some more critical sources call this "only the first" of the losses of Woods' many lucrative endorsement deals; others believe it's simply a coincidence of timing. If anything, it points to a decrease in the effectiveness of Woods' brand equity even prior to his scandal; and it's anyone's guess how the ever-greater number of marital sins will impact his future cachet in the eyes of consumers.


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