July 20, 2015
Tiger Woods no Longer Roaring
Recently Forbes listed the highest paid athletes in the world. CNN took a look at the list and dubbed golfer Tiger Woods the “Most Overpaid Athlete on the Planet.” Tough title to bear … especially if it’s earned. But is performance in the game as important as name value, or is brand opportunity a more equitable measure of pay scale?
The CNN piece came on the heels of a particularly disappointing round of play on Thursday at the British Open. Tiger’s day was an unmitigated disaster that put him in danger of missing the cut in the contest altogether. While some are saying everyone has bad days, others are calling Nike fools for continuing to contribute to Woods’ approximately $50 million annual income.
The doomsayers may not be wrong. Woods only won $600,000 last season, a pittance compared to his days at the top of golf. Then he went and missed the cut at the US Open. As his performance stalls, many other golfers have stepped up to steal the spotlight.
Still, those doomsayers may also be wrong. Star power and brand value are calculated based on more than wins. The would-be News Kings of Golf have failed to capture the imagination of the fan base the way Tiger did at his prime. Even the guys who constantly vied against Tiger at his best have failed to excite the crowds. And that, more than anything else, matters when it comes to branding. That’s why a long-retired Michael Jordan is still scoring endorsement deals. Why Shaq is still a draw, too. People aren’t looking for athletes, they are looking for heroes.
Tiger, despite his failures and lackluster performance on the links, still offers name recognition and star power. While this dynamic is more often seen in women’s sports, the guys are hardly immune. Just ask Tom Brady. Even in his off years, the New England QB remains in the spotlight. Meanwhile, other Super Bowl winning QBs with less photogenic faces languish in relative anonymity.
That brings us back to Tiger. Woods is not just a player, he is a symbol. He broke as many perceived racial barriers as he did expectations. He rocketed to the top of a sport where people his age, who looked like him, were not supposed to become superstars. That success will always be a part of the Tiger mythos.
In his wake, a new cohort of younger players have won big contests, but they have failed to win the crowd. Sure, they all have a relative handful of faithful fans … but players – and brands – need something more, an “it” factor of some kind to make it from big to huge. Tiger has that, in more ways than one. At least, he did … and his fans remember.