Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
Tiger Woods is a mess. His game is as arrhythmic as a broken metronome and bogeys have been following him around on the course like the paparazzi do off of it. While Tiger’s place in history is undoubtedly secure regardless of how spectacularly he might flame out, something Tiger hasn’t had to concern himself with for quite a while is the cost of losing — something that might be about to change.
Woods is exempt from a number of major tournaments thanks to the illustrious career he’s put together since the mid-90s, but he might be in danger of being automatically excluded from others due to his poor play.
Here’s a look at his current exemptions status for some of the biggest golf tournaments, courtesy of Golf News Net.
Not being invited to these tournaments would not only be a blow to Woods’ legacy, but could also be a big blow to the many sponsors who still have a relationship with the former world No. 1 and 14-time major champion. Of those sponsors, Nike might have the most to worry about, especially considering they hitched their golf wagon to Tiger once again in 2013 when it looked like he was on the road back to greatness.
While details of the contact weren’t revealed, Woods’ agent said before the contract was signed that he expected the deal to ensure Woods’ and Nike’s relationship would last the rest of Tiger’s golf career.
Of course as a brand, Nike isn’t going anywhere, but the emergence of Jordan Spieth has made Under Armour a major player in the golf apparel game, threatening the dominance that Nike has had over the sector for much of the century.
Bob Dorfman, sports marketing expert and Executive Creative Director at Baker Street Advertising, isn’t completely ready to throw in the towel on Woods, but believes that Nike has to be getting a little anxious about their standing in the golf universe.
“He’s not going to go away I don’t think,” Dorfman said in a phone interview. “He’s still a tremendous draw in TV ratings and he still brings in the viewership. The real issue is that right now Nike is charging a premium for his (Woods’) outfits, collection, and I can’t imagine anybody buying anything with Woods’ logo on it.”
According to an an article published by ESPN’s Darren Rovell shortly after this year’s U.S. Open, people aren’t flocking to stores to buy Woods’ merchandise like they used to.
“We used to stock a significant quantity of Tiger apparel, but the customer for that product is nowhere near what it used to be,” said Casey Baker, vice president of Carl’s Golfland in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. “I’d say there’s a 60 to 70 percent drop-off in sales of his gear since 2009 and even when he started playing better, he just didn’t resonate enough.”
In addition to Tiger’s playing problems, there’s also the added competition from Under Armour and the fact that women haven’t been buying the apparel like they used to before his scandal in 2009.
“It’s already a problem after the scandal — wives and women haven’t been buying his clothes for their husbands and its kind of been going down since then,” Dorfman said. “Then you consider that right now you can buy an Under Armour Jordan Spieth brand shirt for $40 less than Tiger Woods’ Nike collection. Whether he’s playing good golf or not, the quality of Nike’s shirts is excellent and aside from the TW logo, it really is a premium product. But again, do you want to have that logo on your shirt right now? I don’t think so.”
While Spieth certainly has a long way to go to be compared to Woods on the course, he’s already made major strides off of it in terms of boosting his profile.
In fact, Spieth already polls far higher than Woods, and even Rory McIlroy, in the United States in terms of his likability and marketability. A tool used by U.S. based marketing firm, The Marketing Arm, called the Celebrity Database Index (Celebrity DBI), uses online surveys that represent the American population to determine how marketable athletes, politicians and celebrities are for their clients.
According to their Celebrity DBI rankings, Spieth ranks lower than McIlroy and Woods in awareness (amount of people who know who he is) but far outranks both Woods and McIlroy in terms of appeal, trust, aspiration (how many people ‘want to be like’ Spieth) and influence.
Matt Delzell is the Managing Director of The Marketing Arm and he explained a little bit more about how the rankings are calculated and what they mean for each of the golfers.
“It’s all done through an unbiased, third-party research panel,” Delzell said about the DBI rankings. “It’s taken from a demographically balanced pool of people from across the country all different ages, genders, ethnicities, geographical regions so we have a representation of the U.S. population through an online survey.
“The questions are not ‘do you like Tiger Woods’ or ‘do you trust Tiger Woods.’ For example, it would be ‘to what degree would you trust Tigers Woods to babysit your children,’ something along those lines to dig deeper into ‘do you really trust him?'”
The answer for most of the country, apparently, is no. Woods ranked 3,441 when compared to other celebrities, which according to Delzell put him in the company of Mike Tyson, Roger Clemons and Bobby Knight — not exactly the most trustworthy company.
But public mistrust aside, the notion that Woods is going to fade into the abyss after missing the cut at The Open Championship just isn’t realistic. Besides that fact that Woods said so himself, he’s only 39 years old. While he’d be considered prehistoric in sports like football and basketball, in golf, he could be spry and competitive for the next 10 years.
So with Tiger still in the picture for the long-term, what could Nike possibly do to help themselves and their golf brand?
“Nike has always been really loyal and they owe a lot to woods,” Dorfman said. “He almost single-handedly built their entire golf brand brand –- they can’t dump him, I can’t imagine they are going to do that. But I’d be looking hard at who else they can grab because outside of Rory and Tiger their stable of players isn’t crazy exciting. They’ve gotta be crossing their fingers that Rory is going to come back and be everything they’re hoping he can be. A rivalry with Spieth that can boost both brands would be huge. Short of that, they can hope for a Tiger resurgence or a comeback to respectability, because right now, he’s kind of a joke. It’s not only terribly not cool to be wearing TW gear, it’s embarrassing. Gotta be looking hard for next big guy out, hope he becomes the next big thing.”
Even though Nike cutting the cord completely is a near impossibility, David Carter, Executive Director at USC’s Sports Business Institute believes that Woods should seriously consider the appropriate time to call it quits for his own benefit.
“Many athletes have come back or unretired too many times and I don’t think Woods should have attempted to come back,” Carter said in a phone interview. “He doesn’t want to be remembered the way we sometimes remember old Willie Mays, or fill in the blank. You want to be the guy who went out on top. There’s a whole generation watching the game now that doesn’t even remember him as the dominant Tiger Woods.”
Delzell echoed the belief that Woods will be a “Nike guy” forever, but still thinks the brand really needs to look in the mirror and figure out their next steps.
“I think Tiger’s going to be a lifetime Nike guy for what he’s done for the brand, so I don’t think you’ll see a drop. But Nike would certainly have to be worried in the golf space, especially when you think about Jordan Spieth and Under Armour and Dustin Johnson for Adidas. These are guys who are performing well, these are guys who are competing in majors, and Tiger’s just not, he’s not a relevant piece of the conversation right now.”
If there was one obvious takeaway from The Open Championship this weekend it was that a changing of the guard is underway in golf. Spieth took center stage, and it didn’t feel like something, or someone, was missing from the final round of a major golf tournament. Nothing could do to Tiger Woods what poor play has seemingly begun to do to him.
“During the scandal, I don’t want to say Tiger got a pass, but he was so well regarded by sports fans, he got a little bit of a pass,” Carter said. “Athletes don’t get a pass at the end of a career when they’re not drawing eyeballs to TV sets and especially when they’re not escorting people into shoe stores.”
Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for just one championship for either of his other three teams.