Monday, November 30, 2009

Greatest Sports Marketing Legends -- An Outtake

The more hypocritical sports commentators have explained their prurient interest in Tiger Woods' automobile accident by saying they wonder how all the sordid speculation surrounding his violent encounter with a fire hydrant will affect Woods' business empire. That is, will it cost Woods endorsement money if it turns out he was fooling around and his wife tried to smack him one? Journalistically speaking, what could be more high-minded than that?

This blogger lost his interest in the ancillary earnings potential of athletes at an early age, seven to be precise. That's about the time I discovered that regular consumption of Wheaties had no impact on my athletic ability whatsoever. No matter which jock's smiling mug was pictured on the box, the uniquely bland cereal was not going to be the Breakfast of Champions when I ate it.

After that, the only athlete endorsements I can tolerate are the funny ones -- guys like Bob Uecker and Peyton Manning. Woods' sense of humor may exist, but it's considerably more private than his love life these days. As to why anyone would think a customer would choose an accounting firm because Tiger's a good golfer, I dunno. Adam Smith and Sigmund Freud don't know either.

I am however, a fan of history. And if anyone thinks that this contretemps will hurt Woods' earning potential or the Tiger Empire's quarterly reports, golf history says they are as wrong as wrong can be.

The prototypical athlete as marketing machine was, of course, Arnold Palmer. He basically invented the athlete-as-tycoon business model based on nothing but his own astonishing popularity. Assuming he was conservatively invested all these years, the miracle of compound interest means Palmer is still richer than Woods, too.

Palmer's popularity extended to both sexes. While genuinely devoted in his fashion to his late wife Winnie, Palmer had what was once called a roving eye. That he had affairs and one-night stands on a regular basis was no secret in the little world of golf, and, by extension, in the little world of upper-echelon corporate America that was signing Arnie to all those endorsement deals.

Palmer's philandering is now accepted historical fact, not sordid rumor. It has affected his standing as a legend of American sports and universally beloved icon not one teeny bit. Palmer's in his 80s, and he's STILL doing commercials.

"Athlete fools around on road" is not news, not to me anyway. Not even if the athlete is Tiger Woods. Not even if the athlete wife looks like Erin Woods. It may be less news to the public in general than the media thinks, too.


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