Why did fans and sponsors such as Nike drop Lance Armstrong but stay loyal to Tiger Woods? Probably because Armstrong's doping scandal took place on the field, unlike Wood's off-the-field extramarital affairs, according to new studies.
A series of studies conducted by University of Michigan doctoral student Joon Sung Lee suggests that when fans and consumers can separate an athlete's immoral behavior from their athletic performance, they're much more forgiving than if the bad behavior could impact athletic performance or the outcome of the game.
The latter happened with Lance Armstrong's doping scandal, which fans viewed as performance-related, a reasoning strategy called moral coupling, said Sport Management professor Dr. Dae Hee Kwak, co-investigator of the study.
Armstrong's career suffered tremendously, and Nike eventually dropped him.
The opposite happened with Tiger Woods. The transgression wasn't performance-related, and fans and consumers could more easily separate Woods' extramarital affairs from his athletic performance, the researchers said. They rationalized the behavior—moral rationalization—or deemed it irrelevant to the game, called moral decoupling. Woods' career didn't suffer nearly as much, and Nike continued its sponsorship and even developed ads to help Woods resuscitate his image. (More)
• More information on this study, "Consumers’ Responses to Public Figures’ Transgression: Moral Reasoning Strategies and Implications for Endorsed Brands," in the Journal of Business Ethics