Tiger not yet out of the woods

Superstar golfer Tiger Woods' apology for marital infidelities and expected return to the game this spring will please sponsors, but he has a long way to go to rehabilitate his $100 million (Dh367.3m) brand.

Woods met reporters and friends on Friday to apologise for his behaviour and discuss his future since taking an indefinite break from golf in December.

A clear timeframe for his return to the PGA Tour would have been welcomed by the sport and sponsors such as Nike, Procter & Gamble's Gillette and Electronic Arts, who stood by Woods as damaging details of his personal life emerged.

While the headlines may have died down, Woods' reputation among consumers has also declined. A comeback will require even greater success on the links and the recognition that he now appeals to a more limited set of sponsors.

"He will still sell a lot of golf clubs, but I would no longer be pitching him to corporations that were using him simply as an image of their hard work and integrity," said Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University.

Woods had been in hiding since admitting he cheated on his wife, Elin. Friday marked his first public appearance since a car crash in late November brought his infidelities to light.

Corporate backers such as Accenture and AT&T, dropped the 34-year-old golfer in the wake of the scandal. Other sponsors stopped using him heavily in their advertising, likely biding their time in the hopes that Americans forgive and forget as soon as Tiger starts winning.

Heavy speculation

Friday's meeting was televised and speculation was so heavy on what Woods will say that gambling websites were taking bets on whether Elin will be there and if the 14-time major champion will cry.

The latest Davie Brown Index – used by corporate clients to determine a celebrity's ability to influence consumers – ranked Woods at No2,371 down from No96 before the scandal.

That puts him in the company of actor Gary Coleman and musician Eminem, compared with actor Matt Damon and late musician Frank Sinatra before the scandal.

The better news for Woods is that his personal drama has not tainted the brands he represents. While nearly a third of 44,000 consumers surveyed online by NPD Group said their opinion of the golfer had fallen significantly, most planned no change in buying Tiger-endorsed products.

Twenty-three per cent said they bought products endorsed by Woods and only five per cent said they would cut back or eliminate such purchases, with most of those being 55 years or older.

"With success and with time, people start to forget a lot of things," said Matt Delzell, group account manager with brand consulting firm Davie Brown.

The potential upside is greater for the Tour itself and for broadcasters.

"He's still the single most valuable thing to the PGA Tour this side of Augusta, and that won't change," Boland said. "In fact, it will probably be heightened because the curiosity factor is so great."

Ratings drop

Combined ratings for Sunday coverage on broadcast TV of this year's first three Tour events are down almost 38 per cent from two years ago when Woods was not absent due to injury, according to Nielsen Company. Previous studies showed TV ratings slumped almost 50 per cent when Woods missed time for surgery.

"The PGA Tour demonstrably needs Tiger Woods back," said Rick Horrow, a sports lecturer at the Harvard Law School.

That also raises the stakes for Woods to get back on his game.

"If Tiger wins, and wins consistently, he may, in fact, broaden interest in the PGA and open up new, non-traditional sponsors for the game of golf," said David Carter, Executive Director with the USC Sports Business Institute. (Reuters)

 

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