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The Olympics versus Tiger Woods

Written by Sherwin, published on April 6, 2010

tiger woods in an advertisement

Ages ago I wrote about how the brand of the Olympics is a safer investment than investing in a single athlete or even an entire team. Since I wrote that, a particularly high profile athlete has had a massive brand crash. So it seems like a good time to underline the relative brand security of an entire team of teams.

In order to draw out this comparison, first consider that as of December 10th, reporters and opinion makers were still largely guessing that Tiger Woods wouldn’t lose any sponsors. Well he did. Many of them, I think. Companies became afraid of being associated with Tiger Woods. Wow. Now some didn’t drop him, they just suspended him, I believe. Probably, and I’m totally making this up, some of his sponsors just pretended to drop him and made him sign carefully crafted legal agreements and then forced him to adopt a 9-step process to rebuild his public image.

It is notable that sponsors dropped or suspended Woods in such a short period of time. If you do a site search for “Tiger Woods” on the Calgary Herald website you get a list of 165 articles. Now these articles are listed chronologically. And 12 of those articles occur before they reported on the infamous car crash on November 27th with this article: Woods’ wife rescues golfer from smashed up car. By December 3rd, the Herald published: Sponsors willing to give troubled woods a mulligan. By the 1oth of December the Herald had written: Sponsors begin to shun woods. By February 22nd there had been roughly 150 articles including: Dalai Lama weighs in on Tiger Woods. 1

Some might argue that this is evidence that the Calgary Herald wastes time and resources writing about socially insignificant issues. Some would argue that the energy that the Herald puts towards this issue is evidence that they lack journalistic integrity. But these issues are not mine today. Perhaps I will quickly note, however, that since these articles are about Tiger Woods, they are actually affecting, even constructing, the public opinion about Tiger Woods. They report the news and they make the news all at once. But this is a digression.

The point, and the point of comparison, is that an individual’s billion dollar brand was tarnished so much that in the span of a couple of weeks, his sponsors had to either drop him, suspend him, pretend to drop him, or at the very least, hold tense stakeholder meetings and press conferences. Wow. Now try to imagine what could possibly happen to the Olympics in order for that to happen. It’s almost impossible to imagine. The brand is too diversified. It’s too secure. And partly, I would argue, the public opinion shapers, like the Calgary Herald, have too much invested in the Olympics and the Olympic machine. When the Woods scandal came out, the companies involved with Woods pulled their ads featuring him. But if there was Olympic scandal involving individuals or teams, they would just switch individuals and teams. There is nothing that could happen that could cause the Olympic brand, in toto, to crash that hard, that fast. Even if some athletes became embroiled in some kind of publicity disaster, there would still be thousands of others. And even if some entire teams, or a few countries of teams became publicly toxic, there would still be entire other countries of teams to cushion the brand.

Of course, knowing this, it’s no wonder that the IOC carefully developed, and then enclosed, and then protected that brand within a vast legal framework in order to sell it to the highest bidders. How better to support the cause of amateur sport and international peace & cooperation?

  1. The number is approximate because some, not many, of the listings in the search were of comments, not complete articles. Actually, the number of articles might be more than that, since I did a search for “tiger woods” not “t. woods” or simply “tiger” or “woods”, etc.
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