Well, if the Tiger story won’t go away, I won’t either


It is late to be adding to the mountain of Tigerology, but up until now most analyses of the business impact of the golfing great’s tomcatting have been disappointingly superficial. It is not news to advertisers, even if it is news to the rest of us, that athlete brands are fragile assets. Let’s be honest here: it’s still 2009, and one extramural boyfriend would have done as much economic damage to Tiger Inc. as a dozen girlfriends have. A company that puts its image in the hands of a sportsman can never have enough information about his private life as it needs to establish 100% confidence that there won’t be a meltdown. Celebrities are risky business, but the market in them exists anyway.

It will go on existing, with some of the air taken out of the major international assets. The sales value of an “athlete” like John Daly is adjusted up front (and not only downward!) for volatility: an efficient market knows there’s a certain probability he might end up in jail for writing bad cheques or squabbling with his eighth wife or gambling on gerbil fights. It’s surprising information that creates economic shocks—and that’s why “hypocrisy” is a problem for celebrity endorsers. It’s not because people consider hypocrisy a particularly high crime in itself, but because it can lead to an incorrect assignment of human capital. They’ve been using Tiger to sell aspirational goods, an ideal of achievement and dedication and family living, to the middle class. He should have been peddling cologne, wine coolers, and condoms all along.

Woods, as a brand, will never get back to where he was. The story behind the story is that Old Tiger was a marketing asset you could use absolutely anywhere: adult North Americans aren’t really surprised that a super-fit billionaire might sometimes take a nightclub hostess back to the hotel, but let’s not forget that Woods is also the best-known Asian sports hero on the planet. On this continent “family values” is a patently insincere term, a phrase whose comic nature is obvious by virtue of it having to be formulated in the first place. (“Family values” wouldn’t need any defence if most of us didn’t have higher values that we were actually following most of the time.) Asia, I think, is different. Over there, they still just call ’em “values”.

Tiger will obviously be forced to readjust, especially since keeping his marriage afloat apparently won’t be an option. The expectation of the public and the commentariat appears to be that this will be a process of personal, spiritual readjustment; that would be great for his image if there were very many goods and services well-suited to be sold by a joyless, contrite, perpetually horny sap, though I guess Bibles and self-help books are always an option. But it would be better for him if he had the self-awareness to embrace larger-than-life/folk hero/beyond-good-and-evil status. (Sports ARE, in some sense, beyond good and evil. They don’t put the green jacket on the golfer who gets voted Miss Congeniality.)

Shaquille O’Neal, whose November divorce got bumped off the sports pages by Tiger, is one of the top endorsers in U.S. sports—hell, he’s an MBA-holding expert in the economics of endorsements! But if you heard he had banged a dozen bottle blondes, wouldn’t your honest first reaction be “So was that all in the same night or did the Diesel spread them out over a whole weekend?” If Derek Jeter got caught doing it, wouldn’t you say “Damn, I guess the Captain finally got tired of brunettes”?

For marketing professionals, the watchwords going forward are: Dark-Side Tiger. Demon-Haunted Tiger. Hedonistic Tiger. And, if and when he gets back on the course, Driven, Avenging Tiger—the ordeal survivor, answering the millions of critics the only way he really knows how, with an iron in his hands. It will be an exciting case study for generations of business majors. If Tiger can rise to the occasion, he will be a much more fascinating figure in the end. We may prefer that our kids model themselves on Arnold Palmer, Ken Griffey, Kurt Warner; but sports is also about, and may be mostly about, the Ty Cobbs. The Mike Tysons. The Ayrton Sennas.


Well, if the Tiger story won’t go away, I won’t either

  1. I don't follow golf at all but hasn't it been a few years since Tiger won a major? Maybe the friction in his life will be a blessing for his golf game and he will come out fighting next year and win some tournaments and all this scandal stuff will go away.

    Advertisers like winners.

    • I don't follow golf at all but hasn't it been a few years since Tiger won a major?

      He won the US Open last year and roughly one third of his wins in the majors have been in the last 5 years.

    • Woods won the 2008 US Open and came bloody close a couple of times in 2009.

    • Thanks for the corrections. I assumed 2007 was his last decent year because I thought he was injured for most of '08.

    • Wow! Cosh did some r-e-s-e-a-r-c-h! For a change…

      • People tried to warn me of the consequences after I wrote that column about sex reassignment surgery, but I didn't listen.

  2. Tiger has to get back out on the golf-course and start winning again, since his brand only was really tied to winning. He certainly brought nothing else in the way of personality, and I think the whole "family-values" pitch is over-rated in his case.

    Looking at the Accenture ads, they were all about excellence and success. If Tiger can show that neither of these have changed, then I don't see why he can't pull this back together.

    His failures right now are that:
    1. He ran to a tree and a fire hydrant running away from his wife – how lame is that?
    2. His affairs were with a succession of bimbos, instead of someone interesting
    3. His wife has left him. Now he is left on his own..

    In "brand" terms, he needs to explain that:
    1. He ran into the tree and fire-hydrant because he was high and was going for more munchies.
    2. He had some affairs with some Hollywood starlets but he can't say who…
    3. He has thrown his wife out because she just won't stop nagging him about the girls…

    Now he is back on the side of the "winners". Show up at Augusta and smoke the field and eh should be back in charge.

  3. A few seconds of interent research lead me to believe Tiger Woods wasn't a very well known brand in Asia.

    • Actually now I am finding material that goes both ways.

      • I'm assuming a certain faction just minuses me out of knee-jerk instinct, now.

    • I can't say for the rest of Asia, but the Tiger Woods brand is absolutely huge in golf-crazy Japan.

  4. I can't see kids modeling themselves after a golfer. Let's face it, shooting hoops, shooting pucks, and the physical contact involved in these sports, will always win out over chasing a ball with a stick. And as long as this is so, the marketing opportunities offered to the Shaquiile O'Neal will outdistance those available to a Tiger Wood, now matter the image they try to portrait.

    • "The marketing opportunities offered to the Shaquiile O'Neal will outdistance those available to a Tiger Woods"

      You mean AFTER the car crash, right?

      'Cause I've got to say, up to this point the marketing opportunities offered to Tiger Woods outdistanced those offered to Shaq by a fair margin. I'd even go so far as to guess that, unless he abandons golf all together, Tiger will be back to making way more money than Shaq pretty quickly once he gets back on the course and we all get tired of pretending his actions were so terribly shocking. Come to think of it, I'd say it might even be possible that Tiger makes so much more money than Shaq on endorsement deals that even as sponsors drop him, he might well still hold on to enough deals to never actually drop below Shaq's level.

  5. I'm still hoping Tiger goes into F the World mode. He could be the ultimate heel.

    • "I'm still hoping Tiger goes into F the World mode."

      He's made a pretty good start already, and should be ready to move onto brunettes or redheads very soon.

    • He'll start playing in a black Nike bandana, change his name to "Hollywood Tiger Woods", and when he wins the Masters sprayment a big 'NWO' on the green jacket?

      • This was exactly my though. Embrace the dark side, Tiger!

  6. At the risk of sounding too too and a little loopy, imagine if tiger had any political ambitions? Even his endorsement would be huge. L'affaire Tiger has all the trappings of a "honey pot" take down from the spook world… I wonder if there is anything more than smoke in such speculation? Long time since anyone rivaled the drawing power of MLK, it would be fair to say Tiger's appeal is far broader.

    • Weird honey pot trap though, eh?

      When was the last time such a trap was set with honey that's less appealing than the honey the man's got at home?

      • When she became an ice queen after the birth of their children and started demanding equal treatment as a partner and made demands upon him which the supplicants he has been surrounded by for most of his life would never dare….and in the immortal word s of Tom Robbins in "Even Cowgirls get The Blues" she used the vaginal wrench to get what she wanted.

  7. were you trying to be ironic with the Arnold Palmer reference? He wasn't just legendary for his verve on the golf course.

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