April 9 - Marketing experts said there would never be another Michael Jordan, but that was before they saw Tiger Woods hit a tee shot. With his unprecedented fourth consecutive major golf tournament victory Sunday, Woods rapidly is eclipsing the former Chicago Bulls superstar as the world’s most valuable celebrity endorsement property.
“Tiger is in his own stratosphere,” said Reed Bergman, president of Impact Sports Marketing in Atlanta. “If I’m a corporation, and I’m looking for a spokesperson, he certainly has to be on top of my list.”
Bergman said some experts now believe Woods could earn $5 billion to $6 billion over the course of a presumably long career in a sport already known for rewarding its top athletes long after they have dropped from the leader-board.
“Tiger is in my publication’s opinion close to tying with Michael Jordan in terms of being Americas most visible and valuable athlete-endorser,” said Brian Murphy, editor of The Sports Industry Daily, an e-mail newsletter. “Jordan has been in that position since about 1986, so what we’re seeing with this year’s Master is a torch being passed. (Jordan) is always going to have a tremendous following, but this is Tiger time.”
By winning the Master’s tournament for a second time and becoming the first golfer to hold all four major titles at the same time, Woods added another chapter to a career already being discussed in legendary terms. And in an age when skepticism about professional athletes runs high and heroes are few, legends sell very well indeed.A SELECT FEW
After Sunday’s historic Master’s finish, phones are probably ringing off the hook at International Management Group, which represents Woods. But any marketers hoping to put Woods on the payroll can put away their billfolds. By all accounts Woods is currently not interested in any more endorsements beyond his current roster of five or six blue-chip companies, including Nike Inc., General Motors’ Buick division, American Express, Titleist and Rolex.
“I think it’s a brilliant strategy,” said sports marketing consultant David Carter of the Sports Business Group. “When you have his kind of notoriety, you always run a risk of being overexposed. You can make a lot more money if you’re able to secure a half-dozen premier endorsement deals like he has lined up.”
By limiting his outside work, Woods also keeps himself free to focus on golf and continue creating the legend that will make Tiger Inc. a going concern long after he has eased into golf’s senior circuit. And of course the scarcity of Woods’ endorsements merely makes him more valuable to the companies chasing him.
Woods’ agent at IMG was traveling and unavailable to comment.
Sports marketing analysts put Woods in a singular pantheon of breakaway athletes along with Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth and Jesse Owens. The fact that Woods competes in an individual sport has allowed him to write his own ticket far earlier in life than even Jordan, who was well-known in college but did not win his first world championship with the Chicago Bulls until he was 28 years old.
With his mixed racial heritage Woods is uniquely suited as a spokesman whose message can easily cross national boundaries and demographic borders. “He’s the new world man in the sense that he represents a bunch of different cultures and ethnicities,” said Rick Burton, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.
Carter said Woods commands a premium in part because from a corporate point of view he is about as “risk-free” as any athlete.
InsertArt(970888)“It’s not just that he’s won so many tournaments,” said Carter, principal in the Sports Business Group in Los Angeles. “He has matured tremendously in the last three or four years and won with extraordinary grace. He’s as polished as any athlete ever could be given this media age we’re in.”
If Woods has a weak spot as a marketer, it may be that golf still has a reputation as a high-priced sport associated with the business and cultural elite. As a basketball player, Jordan may have had a more visceral connection with many demographic targets, including inner-city teenagers and even Third World peasants. Yet golf already is a far more international sport than basketball was when Jordan began his career. And sports marketers argue that Woods’ accomplishments are well-understood even by people who may not have ever seen a golf course other than on television.
“They may not be able to afford to play, but if they choose to sit down and watch the events, that will go a long way toward establishing the next generation of fans,” Carter said.
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