Tarnished Tiger still raking in the sponsors' dollars
Published 10/01/2011 | 05:00
THE jury has gone back out on Tiger's right to be called the greatest golfer in history, but nobody can contest his title as richest sportsman of all time.
Despite the utter destruction of his once squeaky clean reputation and the loss of several front-line sponsors, Woods was still out on his own at the top of the charts when Forbes Magazine listed the 50 top-earning athletes in the world last July.
Forbes rated Tiger's income at $105m for the previous 12 months, which was considerably higher than Golf Digest's estimation last month of $72.4m.
Yet, whichever figure you choose, it still left Woods well ahead of his nearest rivals in the Forbes list: boxer Floyd Mayweather Jnr ($65m), basketball's Kobe Bryant ($48m) and Tiger's US Ryder Cup team-mate Phil Mickelson ($46m).
One wonders how different it all might have turned out for Woods (pictured below), had one man in particular not stood firmly behind him in the darkest depths of his life crisis in December 2009.
At the time, Nike founder Phil Knight, Tiger's biggest sponsor, remarked: "When his career is over, you'll look on these indiscretions as a mere blip."
Okay, that's never going to happen, especially since those indiscretions led directly to Tiger's divorce from wife Elin last August.
Yet Knight's decision to honour Nike's $30m-per-annum contract with Woods carried a lot more weight than his words.
Naturally, there was a commercial imperative at play, Nike have built up golf sales of $638m annually on the back of their association with Tiger.
However, Knight's faith was worth a lot more than mere money to Woods at a bad time in his life.
Accenture were the first sponsors to dump him, followed by AT&T, while Gatorade had hinted before the scandal broke that they were discontinuing the line of Tiger soft drinks.
Watch company Tag Heuer simply put him on ice.
Gillette also gave him a break, finally shaving Woods, Thierry Henry and a couple of other professional sportsmen off their promotional team last month -- a day or two before Christmas, to be precise.
The boot was on the other foot last week when Woods severed his long-standing contract to 'write' a monthly column for Golf Digest, an arrangement which went all the way back to 1997.
His agent Mark Steinberg explained Tiger was unable to comply with a request from the magazine for more of his time, adding: "So we cordially parted ways."
Last week also brought significant evidence of Tiger's rehabilitation commercially when it was revealed that Augusta National had agreed to let their exclusive golf course and The US Masters feature in a computer game for the first time on the 'Tiger Woods 2012' game.
Produced by Electronic Arts, another of the Fallen One's faithful sponsors, the 'Tiger Woods 2012' game will go on sale here in April.
Understandably, Augusta National and The Masters (rather than Tiger himself) are heavily branded on the sleeve.
Remember how severely Augusta chairman Billy Payne criticised Woods in the run-up to last year's Masters?
"It is not simply the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here; it is the fact that he disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grand kids," Payne said.
"Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children."
Augusta National alone among golf's leading bodies took a lead in criticising Tiger last spring, but have now clearly shown it's time to forgive and forget by associating so strongly with him in this new enterprise.
If Woods is ever to boost his earning potential back to former levels; tempt anyone but the oil rich states of the Middle East to pay $3m for him for appearances at golf tournaments, or make a serious impact on the golf course design market (he has just three 'under construction'), he must at least resume winning ways at The Majors.
Yet even should he manage to equal or surpass Jack Nicklaus' record haul of 18 Majors, Woods, the first man to gross a billion dollars in sport, has sullied his reputation too badly to have any real hope of making it two billion.