Tiger Woods was a rare breed. A phenomenal athlete who delivered
consistent record-shattering victories on and off the course with style, grace
In an intense game like golf, Tiger built his reputation by performing
under pressure. And like his idol Jack Nicklaus, Tiger transcended from being one
of the best athletes ever to being one of the best celebrity brands ever.
The latest Forbes Celebrity 100 list put Tiger at number five just
behind Angelina, Oprah, Madonna and Beyonce. And ahead of Springsteen. Not bad
In sports, Tiger reigns supreme. For the eighth straight year, Tiger was
the highest paid athlete in the world and last year was one in which he rarely
played golf after being sidelined following knee surgery. In fact, nobody even
comes close to the Tiger Megabrand. Tiger out-earns the number two athlete by
more than two to one.
That was then, this is now. The world’s good boy has suddenly gone bad.
The guy who seemed to be perfect in every way has been discovered to be a mere
mortal like the rest of us. Even worse, he seems to be flawed in some very disagreeable
No one was as proud of Tiger Woods as his Dad, Earl Woods. In an 1996
Sports Illustrated article, Earl famously referred to his son as the “chosen
one” and predicted he would have “the power to impact nations.” Tiger certainly
has enormous power but poor Earl must be rolling over in his grave over the
news of the past few days.
Tiger’s fall from grace is a catastrophe we have never seen before
because Tiger was a brand we have never seen before. Tiger’s image was so pure,
so squeaky clean and so universally appealing that his God-like status, his
walking-on-water video and the founding of the First Church of Tiger Woods all
seemed so well-deserved.
Tiger’s universal appeal and lack of negatives made him the perfect
pitchman. The big blue-chip brands that were lucky enough to sign Tiger knew he
was worth every million they spent because of the trust and image Tiger brought
to the table. Brands like Nike, Accenture, Gatorade, Gillette, American Express
and Tag Heuer banked on Tiger and that unflappable image. Each of these brands
played off Tiger’s image of integrity and performance under pressure.
Slogans like “Just Do It” for Nike and “Go on be a Tiger” for
Accenture resonated with people in powerful ways. Today they taken on whole new
My favorite Accenture headline says “It’s what you do next that counts”
and shows Tiger with his ball on the rocks, focused on how to get back on the
green. For anybody else, the shot would be impossible.
This is the perfect metaphor for Tiger today. What done is done. You
can’t change the past or your last shot; you can only focus on what to do next.
The world is waiting to see exactly what Tiger does next. What he does
next is what counts and what will determine his future.
Keeping his endorsements isn’t really a concern. Companies like Nike,
Gatorade and Accenture are so tightly tied up with Tiger they are unlikely to
cut him loose unless he goes out and kills somebody. In addition, Tiger’s
sponsors are heavily male-oriented brands, so Tiger’s new ladies’ man image isn’t
likely to hurt him much. Married, middle age women were never the target market
when it came to Tiger’s sponsors anyway. Tiger is unlikely to gain any new
sponsors, but he is making so much money now he doesn’t need more sponsors.
Keeping his wife is definitely a concern. Tiger could buy a “Kobe
Special” (in reference to the $4 million ring Kobe Bryant gave his wife) and
refocus and rededicate himself to her. Or Tiger could do an A-Rod and divorce
his wife and start hitting the Hollywood scene. (A-Rod has been linked to stars
such as Madonna and Kate Hudson.) What will not work well for Tiger and his
brand is an uncertain situation and the continued tabloid storylines of ups and
downs with his wife. He is better off deciding right now to stay or go right
now. Or maybe his wife and her nine-iron will make the decision for him.
Keeping his fans is a big concern. Tiger used to be a universally
likeable entity. Things everybody loves? Puppies, apple pie and Tiger.
Today, Tiger has become extremely polarizing. Topics to avoid at your
next cocktail party? Religion, politics and Tiger.
Oddly enough, the business of golf stands to benefit from all this
hoopla. The next tournament and the next PGA championship Tiger plays in will
likely garner very high ratings. Everyone wants to see exactly how Tiger will
perform under the extreme pressure.
And just like the Accenture ad says, it is what you do next that
counts. If Tiger can win, keep his cool and reconnect with the public
everything is likely to be OK. Winning changes everything.
In 2003, Kobe Bryant was charged by a hotel employee with sexual
assault. The case when on for over a year when the changes were dropped after
the accuser became unwilling to testify. The accuser eventually settled a civil suit with
Kobe out of court. With his wife at his side, Kobe admitted in a press
conference to an adulterous encounter with the young lady. Sponsors like
McDonald’s quickly dumped Kobe and others like Nike and Sprite put him on the
Today, Kobe is a leading sports and celebrity superstar. He ranks as #3
in the world in athlete earnings with $45 million a year in earnings, a rank he
shares with Michael Jordan. Kobe has come out with the fourth edition of his signature
sneaker line with Nike the Zoom Kobe IV. And he continues his relationship with
Cola-Cola however Kobe has been moved from the Sprite brand to the hipper
What won over his fans and corporate sponsors? The $4 million ring he
gave his wife? Forget it. It was his success on the court that turned it around
for Kobe. After Shaq left the Lakers in 2004, Kobe became the cornerstone of
the team franchise. He led the NBA in scoring in the 2005-06, and the 2006-07
seasons. In 2008 he won a gold medal at the summer Olympics. He won his fourth
NBA championship in 2009 as well as the finals MVP award.
Alex Rodriguez was tabloid fodder plagued by steroid rumors, a nasty
divorce and poor playoff performances. But all the negatives seemed to be old
news after the Yankees finally won a World Series with A-Rod this Fall.
A lot of damage, ill will and misdoings can be corrected by excellence
on the playing field. If Tiger takes a championship or two in grand style in
2010, we might look back on all this as a minor blip. An incident that brought
depth, grit and humility to Tiger.
If Tiger takes another wrong turn and underperforms on the greens, we
might look back at him with the same disbelief and disgust as one views Lindsey
It is what you do next that counts Tiger. Go on be a Tiger. Believe it
or not, people want you to win.