One family has been destroyed, and millions have lost a role model. We know that these are the victims of Tiger Woods' depraved and selfish acts, but they are not the losers. The real losers in this whole affair will be the corporate sponsors who've just dumped a golden goose after what amounts to just another bread-and-butter scandal.
Yes, I know. I'm a monster. I'm insensitive and callous. But let me just try to make the case that Tiger is a huge value play right now.
Let's begin with the facts
Here's what we know about Tiger Woods and golf:
- No doubt about it, the guy knows how to swing a golf club.
- The Tiger Woods television effect is substantial. Nielsen data show that network TV ratings fell by almost half when Woods didn't play in a given tournament during 2008.
- The Tiger Woods attendance effect at golf tournaments is substantial. Anywhere from 15%-25% more spectators show up to tournaments when the guy's playing.
- Tiger's ability to sell products is substantial. The collective market impact of the whole affair on Tiger's sponsors was calculated at roughly $12 billion. (Personally, I'm a bit skeptical of these numbers -- but the point stands nonetheless.)
- Golf is huge business. According to PGA estimates, the golfing industry has annual revenues of around $76 billion.
With the possible exception of Michael Jordan, no other athlete has so dominated a major professional sport (on and off the field) as much as Tiger. Athletes of this caliber, with vast commercial appeal, are precious resources and should not be disposed of hastily. And yet this is precisely what some of Tiger's largest sponsors have done -- apparently without consideration of what it will cost them over the long term. That's a big mistake.
What Tiger did was terrible and completely unacceptable. But assuming Tiger doesn't forget how to play golf by the time he returns to the sport, I suspect that the massive Tiger Effect is unlikely to diminish any time soon.
You realize it's only a matter of time before he does return to golf and does so with a serious vengeance, right? You really think an athlete of his caliber is not going to come back with a big point to prove?
From Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy to Charlie Sheen and Kobe Bryant, we've witnessed numerous individuals who've not seriously suffered the long-term reputational and commercial destruction that is broadly and immediately assumed to follow a scandal of this magnitude. For Pete's sake, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ran off with a supermodel as his ex-girlfriend announced that she was having his baby. No one even talks about that anymore.
Tiger could easily be even more popular in his return to golf than he was before he left it. True, nobody will ever think he's some clean-cut, paragon of perfection again. But does that matter? As P.T. Barnum said, "Any publicity is good publicity." And that is what is important -- at least from a commercial standpoint.
The real losers
That's why I seriously question the decisions of companies like General Motors, Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) , PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP ) , and Accenture (NYSE: ACN ) to drop (or heavily marginalize) Tiger as a sponsor of their products. After all, this situation is nothing that some time and a little humility can't repair.
Unlike other contemporary professional athletes, Tiger hasn't killed anyone. Tiger did not ruthlessly abuse helpless animals. As far as I know, he hasn't pumped his muscles full of illegal substances either. Tiger just had a wandering eye. And that is something that plenty of people can relate to personally.
You didn't see Nike (NYSE: NKE ) running for the hills, did you? As far as athlete-related scandals go, this one is relatively tame. That was a smart decision, because Nike, along with Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS ) and a few others, now have an under-valued asset nearly all to themselves. Those who've cut his services, however, have now just kicked a man when he's down. That's not something that can be easily undone.
What were they thinking?
Throughout all this, I can't help but think three things about the management teams at companies that cut their ties with Tiger:
- They're short-term, reactionary thinkers driven more by day-to-day public image concerns than long-term economic benefits.
- They're neither flexible nor creative enough to adapt to and solve a PR problem related to something so common that it affects many millions of families across the nation.
- They believe the public has no capacity to forgive Tiger -- ever.
Of course, Tiger's face shouldn't be plastered all over products in stores right now. He needs a lengthy time-out -- just like all public figures do after a big controversy.
But come on -- how many guys will stop buying razors or drinking Gatorade because their pitch-man attracted too many women? Many of these products are marketed precisely to help customers attract more women. Who do these folks think they're selling to?
Michael Jordan, by way of example, certainly has his history of serious flaws. But none of them ever stopped McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) or Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) from fronting him. Even today, the Michael Jordan commercial engine continues strong.
With just even a smidgen of creativity, I could see Tiger's corporate partners even capitalizing from this situation. But they're clearly not interested -- and I think that is stupid, myopic, and borderline arrogant.
Where the value is
If Tiger were a stock, I'd buy him right now -- not because he's a great guy and not because I feel bad for him, but because he's been oversold. He's a discounted and valuable economic asset that has serious long-term potential.
As for the companies that just dropped him, I wonder why corporate managers bought Tiger high and sold him low. Why are they always reacting to yesterday's news and failing to thinking about the future impacts of their decisions? It's all very disappointing.
But that's enough of my opinion. Tell us your opinion in the Motley Poll below.
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If Tiger Woods was a sponsor for your product, what would you do with him?