Sponsors may be lining up again for Woods
“It’s what you do next that counts,” the Accenture ad said.
For six years, those ads featuring Woods could be found in every corner of the world. There he was in the weeds, on the green, celebrating with a fist pump.
Every billboard oozed power and success:
“We know what it takes to be a Tiger.”
“Go on, be a Tiger.”
But when Woods ran his SUV over a fire hydrant last Nov. 27, unleashing a torrent of tawdry and shocking details about his infidelities, those clever catch phrases quickly became punchlines. Within weeks, Accenture and other sponsors distanced themselves from the golfer who had built a billion-dollar industry on his spectacular success on the course and impeccable image off it. It was part of the fallout from a scandal that eventually cost him his marriage and his No. 1 world ranking.
A year has passed since the infamous crash that started it all, and Woods appears ready to re-enter the marketing game. A survey within the last month to test Woods’ appeal produced “very powerful, positive, positive results,” his longtime agent, Mark Steinberg, said, adding that he’s already engaged in “several constructive conversations.”
“We are a society of second chances. That’s been proven over the years,” Steinberg said. “He’s not going to be in any deal until he looks the company in the eye and has a serious conversation with them. ‘How are you going to live your life? We want to be part of the redemption, rehabilitation. Are you serious about that?’ And he knows that. He’s comfortable with it. And he’s going to do that.”
He has already started.
Woods is tweeting and was a guest last week on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” Show. In an op-ed column for Newsweek magazine, his tone was humble and hopeful.
“A smart decision by Tiger and his team to be proactive and get ahead of the one-year story,” said David Schwab, a vice president at Octagon specializing in celebrity strategy for brands. “Now those stories will talk about his latest words, goals and plans.”
Before the crash, Woods was the standard by which all other megawatt pro stars were measured. He exuded class, excellence and determination. Most importantly he was a winner. Corporations around the world were eager to align themselves with him, even if their business had nothing to do with golf. He was, Forbes estimated last year, the first $1 billion athlete.
TV ratings rose when he played, and soared when he was in contention on Sunday. He was a staple of TV and print ads. He was Nike Golf, a walking, talking embodiment of the brand. Even when he did ads for other companies, the Swoosh or TW logo was often present.
“Tiger has done a great job breaking the rules of marketing,” said Dean DeBiase, an expert in advertising and brand strategy who is featured in the new book “Nike.”
After the crash, though, sponsors found themselves being pulled down by the weight of the scandal. Accenture, for example, was the inadvertent butt of jokes, its ad taglines fodder for late-night comics and tabloid websites.
Two weeks after the crash, Accenture dumped Woods.
“Although Tiger had been an effective symbol of Accenture’s high-performance business strategy, our research and analysis concluded that the news surrounding his personal issues last year compromised his ability to help us deliver our key messages to the marketplace,” the global consulting firm said in a statement when asked to evaluate its decision almost a year later.
AT&T Inc., whose logo was on Woods’ bag, and Gatorade, which had created a Tiger Woods-brand drink, soon followed. Gillette and Tag Heuer de-emphasized him in their marketing.
According to Kantar Media, Woods appeared in about $700,000 worth of advertising through the first nine months of this year, all for EA Sports and Nike. In the same period a year ago, Woods appeared in $70 million worth of advertising on behalf of his sponsors.
“I knew there was going to be fallout. I’m not sure I looked at a list and went down every company. But I can’t say I was terribly surprised, except by maybe one.” Steinberg said.
Woods went more than four months between TV commercials before showing up in the black-and-white Nike ad featuring the voice of his late father, Earl, who says, “Tiger … I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?”
The ad may have only added to his woes, however, with many questioning its tastefulness. Nike later said the audio was from a 2004 documentary in which the elder Woods was comparing his parenting style with that of his wife.
“When a company takes on a sponsorship, they take on this person like you’re friending someone on Facebook,” said Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, an Atlanta-based marketing/consulting firm. “Who your friends are says a lot about you, and corporate sponsors really take that to heart.”
Companies like Nike and EA Sports, whose ties to Woods were based on sport, not overall image, remained loyal, and those relationships provide a blueprint for future deals.
“Nike’s brand equity is not really about sports or athletic performance … but about the emotion of sports,” said DeBiase, now chairman of Reboot Partners, a growth advisory consulting firm. “They sell what drives people to watch or participate—the fact that sports is the ultimate drama in which no one, not even the participants, knows the outcome.
“They are not standing by him as much as standing by his reality, delivering the drama that makes sports so compelling.”
Woods still fascinates people.
Aside from a few snide comments, he’s been greeted by supportive fans since he returned at the Masters in April. Based on the size of their galleries, only Phil Mickelson can rival Woods’ star power. After Woods’ posted his first Tweet on Nov. 17 – “What’s up everyone. Finally decided to try out twitter!” – he added more than 40,000 new followers in three hours.
“I think I like this twitter thing,” Woods said in his second tweet. “You guys are awesome. Thanks for all the love.”
Overnight ratings for the final round of the U.S. Open, with Woods, Mickelson and Ernie Els in contention, were way up, 35 percent over 2009, when only the third round was completed at Bethpage Black on Sunday because of rain. Even the notoriously tough British press took it easy on him at the British Open and Ryder Cup.
Potential sponsors have taken note.
Though Steinberg did not give specifics, he said he is talking with an Asian company based outside of China about an endorsement deal. He also said Woods will have a new logo on his bag “at some point next year”; the Tiger Woods Foundation logo was on his bag at the HSBC Champions and Australian Masters.
“I feel pretty positive that we’ll start to slowly build back his partnership base,” Steinberg said.
Aside from repairing his image, Woods has another project—fixing his game.
He failed to win a single tournament for the first time in 15 seasons as a pro, and only once this year did he go into the weekend within three shots of the lead. He has gone 10 majors without a victory, matching the longest drought of his career.
Worse, he hasn’t seemed to be in control of his golf. Divorce proceedings loomed over Woods for most of the summer – it was finalized Aug. 23 – distracting his thoughts and disrupting his normal practice routine. After dumping swing coach Hank Haney in May, Woods began working with Sean Foley at the PGA Championship.
“We never underestimate his abilities as a competitor,” Nike said in a statement.
But he needs to start winning, Ries said.
“We will quickly forget this time if he comes back,” she said. “But the more time we see him downtrodden on the course, losing, the more trouble it is.”
Corporations and consumers alike want to be associated with winners. It’s why athletes make such attractive marketing partners.
But Woods has something equally powerful working in his favor right now, Ries said.
“We love stories of redemption. We want that happy ending,” she said. “That’s what Tiger has going for him, because we are rooting for him now.”
Bifurcate to make game easier for amateurs
In January of 2017, Golf Digest ran a story about the average driving distance of amateurs. If you missed the article (click here to read it), the numbers may surprise you. It conveniently breaks down the results, both by handicap and by age, to provide a more detailed view of what golf is really like for the majority of players.
I recently ran across the post again and couldn’t help myself; hence this article. The average driving distance on the PGA Tour is around 295 yards, with the leader in the 320-plus range. Per the article, low handicap players top the list at 250 yards, while the 10-19 handicapper – average player – drives it around 215. That’s a big difference.
Bifurcation, the hotbed topic which ignites division among golfers at a level nearly on par with our nation’s current political weather, keeps banging at my door. Frank Nobilo recently said something to the effect that “the average player has never been further removed from the professional game.” I agree.
The most common argument against splitting the rules is that golf is one game – where amateurs and professionals, alike, play the same game. But, do they really?
The “regular” tees on many courses today have been stretched to around 6,500 yards, while the PGA Tour average is over 7,400. Most courses keep greens soft and running around 10 on a stimpmeter (I know, you’re course prides itself on 14’s) while the average on Tour is 12 1/2. Even with the Tour’s comparative lack of rough, it’s still deeper and more penal than most courses opt for, day in and day out.
Tour players also compete under the watchful eye of a staff keen on strict adherence to the rules, while a large percentage of average players are unfamiliar with many of the rules (Me, too; they keep changing). One other thing: Tour players have to count every shot they hit, finish every hole and there are no gimmes nor mulligans.
Add the distance pros hit the ball and it’s easy to see they play a different game. If you disagree, take the time to play a “Tour” course from the tournament tees right after a competition and see what you can shoot.
Putting that argument aside, it occurred to me that I’ve been looking at this from the wrong angle. My reasons for bifurcation have had more to do with protecting my view of the integrity of the game rather than what would be best for the average player.
The guys on the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour (LPGA and PGA Tour Champions, too) can really, really play. Last week, I watched a 36-year-old unknown player who had never won on either tour shoot 27 (with a bogey on the front-nine, par 35) in route to a 60. Then he came back two days later with a 28 on the same nine. He won on the Web.com Tour.
Science has unlocked many of the mysteries of the game. Club and ball technology have prompted a benefit for athleticism like never before. Biomechanics, video, launch monitors and force plates have combined to create a huge pool of players with very good swings. Did I mention that they can really play?
However, taking advantage of all this technology requires hours in the gym every day, hours on the range every day, hours on the course every day, and hours in the laboratory on a consistent basis. How many amateur players have the time and money to do all this? That’s right, not most. That’s why the median 10-19 handicap player averages 215 off the tee. They just don’t receive nearly as much benefit from today’s technological advancements as does the touring pro.
So, instead of penalizing the professional player for working hard and taking advantage of all that is available today, my argument has shifted to wanting bifurcation in order to make the game easier, less costly and quicker for the average player.
My idea for the average player begins with distance; the game is too darn long. Think about it: If a player gives up 80 yards off the tee and 45 yards on a 7-iron (180-135), it makes sense that this player should play from 7,400 – ((80 X 14) + (45 X 14) + (4 X 50)) = 5,450 yards to relate to the tour game. Even for the player who averages 250 off the tee and 160 with a 7-iron, the same reasoning yields a 6,400-yard course, give or take a little. But I’m not stopping there, equipment rules need to be relaxed as well.
For instance, the allowable trampoline effect for amateurs should be increased with a focus to fit slower club-head speeds. The limit on the size of the club head needs to be removed and larger grooves for more control and spin should be allowed. Ball limits should be relaxed so the player with lower club-head speed gets more benefit from new ball technologies.
Courses also need to quit watering so much, which would yield a more natural look as opposed to playing in the botanical gardens. This will allow the ball to run out more, effectively shorten the course and open up more options for how to play a shot or hole. Running the ball up on a green or down a fairway needs to return to the game. Rough needs to be eliminated; it’s supposed to be a game rewarding angles not just penalizing off the mark shots. It would also be great to see tree branches trimmed up, when possible, to allow for windows of opportunity and artistry instead of simply creating pitch-out masters.
There will always be the faction that consider themselves purists, which is great. Let major amateur championships stick to the stricter set of rules.
Wait, you could even go as far as to make it a different game altogether and give it a different name, flog for example. That way you don’t need different sets of rules for the same game; each game can have its own set of rules. Tennis is seeing a shift to include pickle ball, maybe golf embraces flog. You could go to the flog course instead of the golf course.
You could even have the USFA, United States Flogging Association, established for the advancement and preservation of flogging, tasked with protecting the game’s original vision of a fun, cheap game which plays quick and embraces imagination and artistry. I think you would be surprised how much you would like flog.
Anyone care to go flogging Saturday?
LPGA Korean event gets sponsor, new venue
BMW Group Korea will be the title sponsor of the LPGA’s new South Korean event scheduled for next year.
The event will be played at LPGA International Busan in the port city of Busan in October of 2019. It’s the first LPGA golf facility to be opened outside the United States, with the golf course scheduled to be ready for play in the summer of next year. The LPGA announced in a news conference in Busan in March that the course would host a new event with the title sponsor to be named at a later date.
BMW Group Korea will give South Korea two LPGA events in the fall Asian swing. The KEB Hana Bank Championship is played in Incheon in October.
The Busan event will feature a $2 million purse with a first-place check of $300,000.
Formerly Asiad Country Club, LPGA International Busan is a renovation being managed by Rees Jones. The golf facility’s opening will mark the first of several projects the LPGA plans in the region, including the opening of an LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Center and the establishment of an LPGA regional qualifying school.
Arizona caps an improbable journey with a title
STILLWATER, Okla. – Five hours before the final match at the NCAA Women’s Championship, Arizona coach Laura Ianello sat cross-legged on a couch in the Holiday Inn lobby and broke down four times in a half-hour interview.
It’s been that kind of exhausting season.
From poor play to stunning midseason defections to a stroke-play collapse, Ianello has felt uneasy for months. She has felt like she was losing control. Felt like her carefully crafted roster was coming apart.
So to even have a chance to win a NCAA title?
“I know what this team has gone through,” she said, beginning to tear up, “and you don’t get these opportunities all the time. So I want it for them. This could be so life-changing for so many of them.”
A moment that seemed impossible six months ago became reality Wednesday at Karsten Creek.
Arizona continued its magical run through the match-play bracket and knocked off top-ranked Alabama to capture its third NCAA title, with junior Haley Moore – who first rose to fame by making the cut at an LPGA major as a 16-year-old – rolling in a 4-footer to earn the clinching point in extra holes.
All throughout nationals Arizona was fueled by momentum and adrenaline, but this was no Cinderella squad. The Wildcats were ranked ninth in the country. They won twice this spring. They had four medalists. They were one of the longest-hitting teams in the country.
But even before a miracle end to NCAA stroke play, Arizona needed some help just to get here.
On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, texted Ianello that she was turning pro. It may have been a gift to her parents, for their years of sacrifice, but it was a lump of coal in Ianello’s stocking.
“I was absolutely heartbroken,” she said. “It was devastating.”
Even more bad news arrived a few weeks later, when junior Gigi Stoll told Ianello that she was unhappy, homesick and wanted to return to Portland, Ore. Just like that, a promising season had gone off the rails.
Ianello offered her a full release, but Stoll looked around, found no other suitors and decided to remain with the team – as long as she signed a contract of expected behavior.
“It was the most exhausting two months of my life,” Ianello said. “We care so much about these freakin’ girls, and we’re like, Come on, this is just a small, little picture of your life, so you don’t realize what you’re possibly giving up. It’s so hard to see that sometimes.”
Stoll eventually bought in, but the rest of the team was blindsided by Quihuis’ decision.
“We became even more motivated to prove we were a great team,” said junior Bianca Pagdanganan.
It also helped that Yu-Sang Hou joined the squad in January. The morale immediately improved, not least because the players now could poke fun at Hou; on her fourth day on campus she nearly burned down the dorm when she forgot to add water to her mac-and-cheese.
Early on Ianello and assistant Derek Radley organized a team retreat at a hotel in Tucson. There the players created Oprah-inspired vision boards and completed exercises blindfolded and delivered 60-second speeches to break down barriers. At the end of the session, they created T-shirts that they donned all spring. They splashed “The Great Eight” on the front, put the state of Arizona and each player’s country of origin on the sleeves, and on the back printed their names and a slogan: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
“I can’t think of anything else that better embodies this team,” Radley said.
This spring, they rallied together and finished no worse than fourth in a tournament. Through three rounds of stroke play here at the NCAA Championship, they used their distance advantage and sat third in the standings. Then they shot 17 over par in the final round, tumbling outside the top-8 cut line.
They were down to their final chance on the 72nd hole, needing an eagle to tie, as Pagdanganan lined up her 30-footer. She dramatically drained the putt, then gathered her teammates on the range.
“This means we were meant to be in the top 8,” she said. Less than an hour later, they beat Baylor in the team playoff to earn the last match-play berth.
Ianello was so amped up from the frenetic finish that she slept only three hours on Monday night, but they continued to roll and knocked off top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals, beating a pair of Player of the Year contenders, Lilia Vu and Patty Tavatanakit, in the process. In the afternoon semifinals, they jumped all over Stanford and won easily.
It was a cute story, the last team into the match-play field reaching the final match, but a stiffer challenge awaited the Wildcats Wednesday.
Alabama was the top-ranked team in the country. The Tide were a whopping 110 under par for the season, boasting three first-team All-Americans who were so dominant in their first two matches that they trailed for only two of the 99 holes they played.
Ianello already seemed to be bracing for the result on the eve of the final match.
“Win or lose,” she said, “this has been a hell of a ride.”
But their wild ride continued Wednesday, as Hou won four holes in a row to start the back nine and defeat Alabama’s best player, Lauren Stephenson, who had the best single-season scoring average (69.5) in Division I history.
Then sophomore Sandra Nordaas – the main beneficiary after Quihuis left at the midway point of the season – held on for a 1-up victory over Angelica Moresco.
And so Arizona’s national-title hopes hinged on the success of its most mercurial player, Moore. In the anchor match against Lakareber Abe, Moore jumped out to a 2-up lead at the turn but lost the first three holes on the back nine.
By the time Radley sped back to help Moore, in the 12th fairway, she was frazzled.
“But seeing me,” Radley said, “I saw a sense of calm wash over her.”
Moore played solidly for the rest of the back nine and took a 1-up lead into the home hole. She didn’t flinch when Abe hit one of the shots of the entire championship – a smoked 3-wood to 12 feet to set up a two-putt birdie and force extras – and then gave herself 4 feet for the win on the first playoff hole. She sank the putt and within seconds was mobbed by her teammates.
In the giddy aftermath, Ianello could barely speak. She wandered around the green in a daze, looking for someone, anyone, to hug.
The most trying year of her career had somehow ended in a title.
“At some moments, it felt impossible,” she said. “But I underestimated these young women a little bit.”
Pac-12 continues to dominate women's golf
Arizona's women's golf championship marked the fourth consecutive year in which the women's Division I national title was won by a Pac-12 team. All four championships were won by different schools (Stanford, 2015; Washington, 2016; Arizona State, 2017; Arizona, 2018). The Pac-12 is the only conference to win four straight golf championships (men or women) with four different schools.
Here are some other statistical notes from the just-concluded NCAA Div. I Women's Golf Championship:
• This is the second time that Arizona has won the national title the year after rival Arizona State won it. The last time was 1996.
• Arizona now has three women's golf national championships. The previous two came in 1996 and 2000.
• Arizona is only the sixth school to win three or more Div. I women's golf championships, joining Arizona State (8), Duke (6), San Jose State (3), UCLA (3) and USC (3).
• Arizona's Haley Moore, who earned the clinching point on the 19th hole of her match with Alabama's Lakareber Abe, was the only Arizona player to win all three of her matches this week.
• Alabama's Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight also went 3-0. Gillman did not trail in any match.
• Since the match-play format was instituted in 2015, Arizona is the lowest seed (8) to claim the national title. The seeds claiming the national championship were Stanford (4) in 2015; Washington (4) in 2016; and Arizona State (3) in 2017.