Rough lies ahead for Brand Tiger
|Kathy O'Meara on how a sports megastar's pristine image can be so dramatically transformed|
Across the wires of the night. Yes, Tiger Woods, the world's first billion dollar athlete, has finally gone and tarnished his wholesome, squeaky clean image following a mysterious late night collision with a fast moving tree, fire hydrant and hedge and his wifely ‘rescue' with a three iron (“should have been a driver” said fellow player Jesper Parnevik). Following his misadventure, it emerged that he had enjoyed not one, but several lurid affairs, amongst them the magnificently monikered Jaimee Grubbs.
Woods has apologised for letting his family down in an enigmatic statement that alluded to “personal sins” and the forced exposure of “intimate details” of his life. Famously private (surely a contradiction in terms?) and obsessively careful with respect to his image, he is incensed that the story has become tabloid fodder and has served only to stoke the fires of speculation by initially refusing to co-operate with Florida police.
The tabiods alleged that he had an affair with, among others, hostess Rachel Uchitel, and the aforementioned Ms Grubbs. Woods was charged with careless driving, fined $164 and received four points on his driver's record. He thought the matter was sorted, but the story took wings and spread quicker than an outbreak of syphilis in a Miami brothel.
“Although I am a well-known person and have made my career as a professional athlete, I have been dismayed to realise the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. My family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives. The stories in particular that physical violence played any role in the car accident were utterly false and malicious. Elin has always done more to support our family and shown more grace than anyone could possibly expect. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions,” he said.
Now at the peak of his prestige and earning power, Woods, 33, has, for a considerable time, been a marketer's dream. Young, good looking, articulate, with a perfect wife and family and the most talented sportsman in the world… what's not to emulate? His fearful symmetry and focused features gazes down on us from billboards across the globe.
His golf earnings of around $23m are dwarfed by the almost $100m he collects annually from product endorsements. Can his earning power survive the fallout? His sponsors like Nike (tagline: ‘Just do it' – bet he wishes he hadn't), Gatorade and Gillette Fusion at first vowed they would stand by their man but then changed tack. Watchmaker Tag Heuer and Accenture soon backed off on their Tiger Wood's ad campaigns in the US.
CURBING HIS IRE
Tiger Woods is seen leaning on a driver on the Gillette website. Following the incident outside Woods's home in Florida, when his car swerved and hit a water hydrant, a tree and a hedge, a number of Woods's sponsors have dropped him from their campaigns.
Backers like telecoms giant AT&T were “unavailable for comment” as to whether Woods still enjoys their full confidence. Ratings for the forthcoming PGA tour are likely to skyrocket and the sexless image of the sport may benefit from the libidinous allure. Golf still needs Tiger, and it looks like Tiger may need golf a little more acutely in the future.
But surely the pressure, whether self-imposed or otherwise, to be the perfect role model both in a professional and personal capacity, contributes to the likelihood of the whole house of cards coming crashing down. Ed Smith, former captain of Middlesex cricket team and writer with the London Times, commented on the Woods' controversy.
Smith contended that something has been wrong with Tiger for a considerable time, pointing out that his demeanour betrays an absence of joy in his sporting triumphs. He views golf as an encumbrance, rather than a means of self expression.
Sport used to be a means of developing character but now, with the pressure not just to succeed, but not to put a foot wrong while doing so, it serves to conceal it. Woods is the high water mark of professional restraint, but this puritanical relentlessness is not part of the natural human condition and impossible to sustain for a whole life.
Smith claims that sport – its practitioners, its audience and its reportage – needs to grow up. Woods' indiscretions should be a chance not to indulge our prurience, but to see this crisis of arrested development, where we expect our stars to remain in a rut of adolescent angst, where naught else matters, save for slotting a ball into a net/hole/ basket.
Tiger has acquiesced in the improbable ambition of eliminating weakness and his model has become the universal one for all professional sport: ‘Go on, be a Tiger!' shout the Accenture posters in international airports. Like Icarus, their hero flew too close to godliness and became well and truly burnt. Tiger Two should be interesting viewing.
Kathy O'Meara (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a director of MediaRepublic