SBJ/June 25 - July 1, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Woods' dominance partly good, partly bad, all Tiger

A popular question at the recent U.S. Open was "Is Tiger Woods' dominance of golf good or bad for the game?" There is no doubt that Woods, having won 27 of 52 starts before the Open, including the previous four consecutive major championships, is the best golfer in the world.

GolfWorld executive editor Ron Sirak said: "Woods' continued domination will be good for the game in the short term. ... It would be good for the game in the long run if someone rises to Tiger's challenge." Boston Globe golf writer Joe Gordon said, "Ultimately, he will be remembered as the best thing that could have happened to golf." Charlotte Observer golf writer Ron Green Jr. said: "The more Tiger Woods wins, the better it is for golf. What we're seeing is that once-in-a-lifetime athlete who changes not just the way the game is played but the way we think about the game."

As to the original question, the answer is "good," with an asterisk. But when you break down the question and examine it relative to the key segments in the golf industry, Woods' huge effect on the sport isn't all sunshine and roses.

For example, Woods brings the PGA Tour unprecedented attention. His benefit to TV ratings is undeniable. But if Woods relegates all the other pros to playing for second place, how long will TV viewers stick with golf?

Woods has put PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem in a position to negotiate record TV rights for the new 2003 TV package. But who's going to pay the skyrocketing advertising costs the broadcasters will subsequently need to charge for spots on PGA Tour telecasts? Not the golf equipment, management consulting and software companies comfortable with the spot rates they are now paying. Where will the new advertisers with deeper pockets come from? How can the PGA Tour guarantee Woods' presence at events, to drive up ratings?

Higher TV revenue derived through Woods will stuff the pockets of other golfers through fatter event purses. Plus, big-name players from all over the world will be attracted to play more U.S. tournaments because of the purses. But you have to wonder whether Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, David Duval, etc., wouldn't trade that extra money for a better shot at winning major championships, many of which will be won by Woods over the next 20 years.

The golf equipment industry? Some 25 million Americans play golf. The good news is that 3 million take up the game each year. The bad news is that 3 million leave the game each year. It seems that Woods' popularity has had little effect here, unless you believe that amateur golf would be losing popularity if Woods had not come along, which is doubtful. He sure appears to have helped Nike's start-up golf equipment brand get a toehold in the business, but Nike's market share has come at the expense of other manufacturers, not through reaching new players coming into the game.

Woods' effect on the golf tournament scene is also a mixed bag. Tournament directors from Dubai to Fort Worth to New Zealand are facing pressure from their sponsors and boards to attract Woods. The upside of having Woods play a tourney is well documented, with increased crowds, higher status and media attention. But a dark corollary is evolving: His absence places some tourneys in danger of being unfairly relegated to the "B" string.

Some say that Woods' sponsor relationships with multiple tournament sponsor Buick and with ABC television parent company Disney are meant to, ah, encourage Woods' attendance at Buick-sponsored and ABC-broadcast tournaments, in covert conflict with the tour rules against sponsors paying appearance fees to players.

How about Woods' effect on global sports management agency IMG? IMG is all about property ownership. Woods is an IMG client, but how long will that last? How long before Woods regains control of his property? But even if they split up, they may continue to work together on the "Tiger Tour," supposedly an independent tour of top golfers who will play as a group on their own global schedule, with their own TV and Internet media package. This concept keeps Finchem, his TV advertisers and major-tournament sponsors awake at night.

Maybe Woods' relationship with IMG is best expressed by this old saying: The best thing about doing business with the wolf (or in this case, the Tiger) is that you're the last one to be eaten.

Tiger Woods' effect on golf is undeniable. As long as he dominates the competitive side of the sport and maintains a popular public persona, he will demand accommodation from the industry's traditional power centers. For each segment of the industry, there are positive and negative implications.

Golf is a conservative game, controlled mostly by old white men — or at least it was. Now, that is all changing. Some will benefit from the changes. Some will lose. But it won't be easy, and the game and the industry will be better because of it.

Mel Poole (mp@sponsorlogic.com) is president of Sponsor Logic, a consulting management and events strategy.

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