- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2010

For years, Tiger Woods was the gold standard of sports marketing: a carefully managed high-end brand that signified precision, performance, power and perfection. He was a top-10 fixture on celebrity marketing power rankings alongside A-list stars such as George Clooney, Bill Cosby and Michael Jordan.

Today, in the Davie-Brown Index, Mr. Woods ranks somewhere in the 2,000s, beside troubled singer Amy Winehouse, rocker Tommy Lee, early ‘80s TV star Erik Estrada and Horatio Sanz.

If you have to ask who Horatio Sanz is, well, that’s a measure of how much work lies ahead for the superstar golfer who is trying to repair an image tarnished by allegations of sex addiction and infidelity that emerged in the wake of his solo car accident last Thanksgiving Day.

One year after his fall from grace, Mr. Woods has weathered a high-profile divorce, the loss of tens of millions of dollars in endorsements and being fodder for tabloids and late-night comedians, and seems ready to start rebuilding.

Once famously indifferent to fans and sports media, the 35-year-old golf champion recently wrote an opinion article for Newsweek, made an appearance on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” show and, perhaps most surprisingly, is now communicating with the public via a newly launched Twitter account.

“I think I like this twitter thing,” he tweeted on Nov. 17 after more than 40,000 followers picked him up in the hours after he joined the social media network. “You guys are awesome, Thanks for all the love.”

Sports marketing pros say Mr. Woods and his team, led by longtime agent Mark Steinberg, are making all the right moves.

Tiger Woods could be the biggest comeback story in the history of sports,” said Andrew Stroth, a Chicago-based lawyer who has been a business adviser for Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Don’t underestimate Mr. Woods. “America loves a winner,” he said. “Just look at what is happening right now with [Philadelphia Eagles quarterback] Michael Vick.

“If Tiger continues to concentrate on being the best golfer he can be and being the best father he can be to his two children, the rest will take care of itself,” Mr. Stroth predicted.

Redemption is a big part of the new branding, Mr. Steinberg said.

“We are a society of second chances. That’s been proven over the years,” he told the Associated Press. “He’s not going to be in any deal until he looks the company in the eye and has a serious conversation with them. ‘How are you going to live your life? We want to be part of the redemption, rehabilitation. Are you serious about that?’ And he knows that. He’s comfortable with it. And he’s going to do that.”

Using social media tools such as Twitter and showing a more “approachable” side to fans and to traditional media will help, said Bill Glenn, a senior vice president with New York marketing firm Millsport.

Twitter is a nice step, but he’s got to prove it over the long haul. Winning alone probably won’t get him there. He’s got to change how he interacts with fans. If he goes back to his old ways, it will be a much steeper climb,” Mr. Glenn said.

But no matter how successfully Mr. Woods and Mr. Steinberg rebuild, Mr. Glenn said, some will never forgive and forget.

“There are some fans who will never come back. There are some sponsors who just won’t go there,” he said.

Before the infidelity scandal, Mr. Woods parlayed his dominating play on the golf course and a clean, family-oriented image off the links into a billion-dollar industry.

The Associated Press noted this week that Mr. Woods appeared in about $700,000 worth of advertising through the first nine months of this year, all for EA Sports and Nike — two firms that stood by the fallen star. During the same period a year earlier, Mr. Woods appeared in $70 million worth of advertising on behalf of his sponsors.

As the scandal spiraled, sponsors Accenture, AT&T and Gatorade cut ties, and Mr. Woods slipped into the longest victory drought of his golfing career.

For the first time in 15 seasons on the PGA Tour, Mr. Woods was winless. Even worse, he hasn’t been particularly competitive.

That has to change, said Michael Gordon, chief executive of New York’s Group Gordon, or there’s nothing to market.

“Before all this, his appeal was based in part on this image of the perfect private life, the perfect family man. Well, no one’s going to buy that anymore, so he’s got to be more open,” Mr. Gordon said. “But that’s OK. People will accept flawed characters, flawed heroes. In fact, we seem to prefer them that way, as long as they are open.

“But it doesn’t matter what he does publicly if he doesn’t play well,” he said. “He has to get his game back.”

Oh, and by the way, Horatio Sanz is an actor and comedian best known as a cast member of “Saturday Night Live” from 1998 to 2007.