Can Tiger ever rebuild his brand?
Were all those babes really worth 22 million bucks?
They better have been, because that’s how much Tiger Woods lost in endorsements in the wake of the scandal involving Tiger and his string of sexting hotties who came to light one year ago this week.
You might think the golf great lost “only” his wife and his reputation after the personal drama, but we crass business journalists look at it from another angle as well. According to Sports Illustrated’s annual analysis of the highest-earning American athletes, Tiger, while still No. 1 on the list, has estimated endorsements this year that are down from $92 million in 2009 to $70 million this year.
The green bleed began after Accenture (you saw the light-box ads in airports; trust me, you saw them), Gatorade (owned by Pepsico) and AT&T all yanked their deals. Everyone waited to see who would be next, but time and a very public entry into sex rehab staunched the bleeding.
Still standing by their man: big names like Tag Heuer, Gillette, Electronic Arts and Nike.
There are conflicting accounts as to how much those companies are spending on Tiger.
Kantar Media told The Associated Press that Woods appeared in about $700,000 worth of advertising through the first nine months of this year, all for EA Sports and Nike. In the same period a year ago, Woods appeared in $70 million worth of advertising on behalf of his sponsors.
But Electronic Arts president Peter Moore disputed the $700,000 figure.
“The numbers out there are erroneous. We spent more than $700,000 on our own this year," Moore told me Wednesday. "We did TV with Tiger — we were tied to the Ryder Cup this year so we were focused on that with our TV ad, and our focus of that ad was Tiger. We’re sticking by him. He’s still the biggest draw out there.”
I asked if EA will increase its marketing budget for Tiger for next year, and Moore said, “I don’t know if we’ll ‘up’ our Tiger investment, but we will certainly not be divesting from Tiger.”
EA's CEO, John Riccitiello, affirmed to me the company's 10-year relationship will continue: “I frankly don’t know anything about his social life... we can’t do anything but stand by a person who’s been a great partner for us."
Define “great.” Well, to date, sales of “Tiger Woods PGA Tour Series” were around $600 million to $800 milllon, Moore said. But according to NPD (the market research outfit that spends its time figuring out this stuff), sales of the latest installment of the game, “Tiger Woods 11,” are down 68 percent.
That decline likely won't affect EA's production of a new version of the game.
“I have no doubt there will be a “Tiger Woods 12 EA” game," Moore said. "When we look back to when we signed him a few years out of Stanford, he continues to be on the masthead of our games as a very smart investment.”
Could it be that reputation really does matter? If gamers who spend half their day sitting, as the Weird Al Yankovic song goes, “half-undressed, eating chips off their chest,” have stopped buying the Tiger dream, you can bet the rest of the world has, too.
Can Tiger win back old endorsements or rake in new ones? I put in a call to famed branding and PR guru Bob Dilenschneider, who’s known for having resurrected Richard Nixon’s image post-Watergate. But on the subject of Tiger, even he says no way, not yet.
“No one wants Woods today because a) he is not winning and b) he has not fully repented,” Dilenschneider said.
He says those two strikes against Woods mean there’s no way dollar signs will appear, especially if the latter isn’t appropriately addressed.
“Woods needs to be very public and might even use the holiday period to show a change in the way he’s thinking ... golf and success in sports is important, but how we treat one another trumps everything else,” Dilenschneider said. "Woods has yet to issue a strong mea culpa and then find ways to reinforce it again and again. He’ll always be dogged by this until he does that.”
One year later, what’s Tiger’s plan? No doubt he’s surrounded by handlers who have been working on a plan since this drama began to unfold one year ago. If the plan is to net new endorsements after burnishing his damaged image, they need a better chamois cloth.