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Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger Woods - Statement

I am not a journalist or technically in the public relations field, but I have represented a significant number of high-profile professional athletes who have been the subject of intense media scrutiny, so I think I have somewhat of an educated opinion on what transpired with respect to Tiger Wood’s recent statement.

America has a fascination with tearing down its heroes, whether they are athletes, politicians, or other high-profile individuals. America also has a penchant for forgiveness. America puts high-profile athletes (and other high-profile individuals) on a pedestal (we wear their jerseys, buy their products, and flock to the fields and arenas in which they perform, and embrace and root for them to succeed). However, Americans are fallible, and we want, deep down, to know that our heroes are fallible also – it “humanizes” the hero in the mind of the public. All of a sudden, we can say “hey, I made that mistake too” or “hey, that could have happened to me”. An athletes’ failure (in the main) can strengthen his/her bond with the public because he/she becomes more “like us”.

Some in the media have asked me whether Tiger took the correct path in handling this matter with respect to public relations given that I had represented Sammy Sosa, Andy Pettitte, and A-Rod (and others) in somewhat similar circumstances. To be candid, I would have provided different advice, and employed a different strategy, but that is not to say Tiger (and/or his advisors) chose the wrong path. At the end of the day, Tiger only had to apologize to his wife, his family, and his friends, which he did. He does not need to apologize to the American public or his sponsors. With his statement (and I’m sure well before then), he apologized to the only people he needed to apologize to. This was a personal failure, not a professional failure.

Tiger made a number of personal, not professional, mistakes. These mistakes will cost him some sponsorship dollars and a few (and I mean a few) fans. America didn’t embrace Tiger because he was “squeaky clean”, they love him because he was (and is) the best (and more importantly, the most exciting) golfer of this generation. He singularly energizes a sport and has become one of the most recognizable personalities in the world because of his “on-course” performance, not his “off-course” behavior or personality.

As far as his sponsors are concerned – Tiger has made them their money – his sponsors have a choice now: cut and run, or maintain their relationship with the best golfer of this generation. Tiger’s sponsors were not robbed or cheated by these recent developments. They got what they paid for – the best golfer in the world. If they determine going forward that Tiger will not have the public appeal (and resulting marketability), then they will move on, as is their right. But watch, and wait, because most of his sponsors won’t cut and run, because performance sells. Performance, not personality (or personal life) drives his popularity and resulting marketability.

I wish Tiger Woods and his family the best and I look forward to his return to competition, because I, like the rest of America, love a hero. Maybe more so now that I know that he is fallible.


  1. So no hint on what you would do differently?

  2. i appreciate the contrarian view, jay, but i'm not sure i agree with you. tiger woods will continue to be a star, but the reality is, the nature of his celebrity has changed. he was, and presumably still is, the greatest golfer in the world, true. but, recent polling puts his national favorables barely above John Edwards.

    and that's why the majority of his sponsors have run for the hills. At&T, Accenture, Gillette, Tag Huer, PepsiCo, all toast. Nike seems to be stuck with him for the time being due to huge sunk costs they already incurred, although they have pulled much of TW promos. Electronic Arts has stuck around because they've gambled - correctly in my opinion - that the brand of his game name will continue to pull in gamers. But, to say that Tiger will "some" sponsorship dollars, seems to minimize the the economic clusterfuck of a situation that he, his agant, and his accountants are dealing with right now.

    While people may still cheer when A rod hits a home run, his already tenuous public image was further tarnished by his steroid lies and, imo, the same goes for the rest of your disgraced clients. people will still cheer a good play and maybe buy a jersey, but that doesn't change the fact that their worth to advertisers has plummeted.

    Of course Americans are forgiving, but Americans also abhor proven, pathological liars. Once the public's trust is broken, it's gone. Surely Tiger will win some more golf tournaments. Surely he'll continue to earn millions. But, It might be easier to put humpty dumpty back together again, than Tiger's former All-American image.

  3. sorry for the typos. that's what i get for typing on the A train!

  4. Also, just realized that some of my facts are wrong. Today's NYT's says that TAG Heuer is still with him. Also important to say that i did NOT see the press conference, although i've read the transcript and coverage.

    Either way, Tiger has irreparably harmed his brand and put himself through needless misery by letting this entire process drag out. He should have followed the advice of every crisis control expert and issued this televised mea culpa 2.5 months ago.

  5. Jay - Not only do Americans "have a fascination with tearing down its heroes," but we seem to be fascinated by a media that is far stronger in its ability to criticize than its ability to offer solutions to problems. This has something to do with the polarization in the political arena.

    I agree with you that the mistakes are personal and not professional. So, the apology needs to be directed to them, and, as he said, he has to prove to them by changing his behavior over the long haul.

    With all of the labor stoppage in sport, most fans have returned once the athletes return to the diamond, the field, the ice, or the court. As is often said about baseball, the game has endured every effort to destroy it. If Tiger Woods comes back and plays golf like he always has, the fans will come back. Many will never come completely back, but most will cheer him on the course again.

    The real lesson to me here is the same as with all athletes. Cheer them for their athletic abilities. You can even try to emulate that aspect of their life. The vast majority of us do not know Tiger Woods or most professional athletes in any personal or meaningful way. So, I am not sure why most of us should expect an apologize or what it even means.

    That takes me back to the original point. Many in the media will use Tiger Woods as one of the latest individuals to try to "tear down" because that seems to be what so many of us like to do. Do most of us really patronize Tiger's sponsors because he has convinced us it is a superior product? Perhaps, if it is golf equipment we do. Otherwise I am not so sure.

  6. just heard that Gatorade dropped Tiger on Friday. Howard Stern is running a 100k beauty contest for a bunch of his former gf's.

    Sucks to be the greatest golfer in the world, but this was mishandled from the beginning. I always thought that Tiger should pull a Clinton and continue to work his ass off to win more golf tournaments, interspersed with a few PROFESSIONALLY produced media mea culpas. I agree with you, it could have worked. But Tiger's lone press availability was an abject failure from a P.R and a technical point of view.

    The proof is Gatorade pulling the plug on Team Tiger last week.

    The sooner gets his ass on a golf course, and the sooner he starts winning championships, the better off he'll be.

    why wait so long?