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AT&T ends sponsorship of scandal-hit Tiger Woods

NEW YORK (Reuters) - AT&T Inc said on Thursday it was terminating its sponsorship agreement with Tiger Woods, joining the list of companies that have distanced themselves from the top golfer in the wake of a sex scandal.

The U.S. telecommunications company is the latest corporate sponsor to back away from the world’s first billionaire athlete since he became engulfed in allegations of multiple extramarital affairs following a mysterious minor car accident outside his Florida home on November 27.

AT&T, which had previously said it was assessing its relationship with Woods, said in a brief statement on Thursday: “We are ending our sponsorship agreement with Tiger Woods and wish him well in the future.”

Woods, believed to be the world’s wealthiest athlete, estimated to earn about $100 million a year in endorsement deals before his troubles, confessed on December 11 to “infidelity” to his Swedish wife Elin Nordegren. He announced he would take an indefinite break from golf to save his marriage.

The scandal may have cost shareholders of companies endorsed by the world’s No. 1 golfer $5 billion to $12 billion in losses, according to a study by two economics professors from the University of California, Davis.

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“Our analysis makes clear that while having a celebrity of Tiger Woods’ stature as an endorser has undeniable upside, the downside risk is substantial, too,” one of the professors, Victor Stango of UC Davis Graduate School of Management, said in a statement released along with the study.

Some economic analysts, however, have questioned the accuracy of the UC Davis study, although they acknowledge that Woods’ own marketable value as a subject for corporate endorsement has been badly hit by the scandal.

Sponsors who have revised their relationship with Woods include technology outsourcing and consulting firm Accenture Plc, which ended its endorsement, and Procter & Gamble Co’s shaving products maker Gillette, which dropped the golfer from its marketing.

Some other companies, however, like American athletic shoe maker Nike Inc, have said they are standing by the golfer.

The scandal saw a parade of more than a dozen women -- from cocktail waitresses to porn stars -- come forward to say they had affairs with the married father of two.

Since the start of the scandal, Woods, who had previously carefully maintained a public image of a clean-living sports and family man, has kept out of sight of the media.

A spokesman for AT&T declined to give any details of its deal with Woods.

Reporting by Tiffany Wu, editing by Pascal Fletcher, Dave Zimmerman and Matthew Lewis