x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

When the going gets tough, the sponsors get going

When Tiger Woods first bumped into bark and then snagged his Cadillac Escalade on a Florida fire hydrant, the sound of sawing trees could be heard from the Amazon to Australia.

Rarely can the hitting of a small tree have resulted in such widespread deforestation. When Tiger Woods first bumped into bark and then snagged his Cadillac Escalade on a Florida fire hydrant, the sound of sawing trees could be heard from the Amazon to Australia. Acres of newsprint were produced as newsmen tried to piece together what he was up to, then commentators tried to give their verdict. Rarely can so much drivel have been uttered so swiftly.

Rod Liddle, writing in The Sunday Times, was probably the worst culprit. "The most relentlessly boring man in the entire history of the world's most boring game, golf, a man seemingly bereft of personality, hinterland, mischief, hidden depths - you name it, Tiger Woods doesn't have it. Even within his game, among people so boring that you would pay an awful lot of money never, ever to meet them, young Eldrick was regarded as deeply boring," he opined.

Wrong, wrong and wrong again. In fact, the only thing he got right in that wordy paragraph was that the first name of Mr Woods is Eldrick. "I know nothing of the sport and wish to know even less," he eventually admitted, probably the only sensible thing he said in a long and tedious piece. It might have been an indication for his sleepy editor to spike the piece, or even the writer - in my opinion a Liddle goes a long, long way - but it ran nonetheless.

As every man and his dog appears to have an opinion on what happened that night, I thought I would focus instead on his financial prospects. For what it is worth, I expect him to return to the golf course in time for the Masters tournament, held every April among the azalea-lined fairways of the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia and perhaps the most genteel site in golf. Spectator tickets are passed from generation to generation. If you make a fuss, you are thrown out and never allowed back. A journalist who dared to criticise the course was kicked out and never invited again. Crowd control will be a problem. There will be a few inane shouts of "get in the hole!", as always, but that will not deter the world's finest golfer.

Still, Master Woods will be walking the fairways a little lighter as he goes without a few of his sponsors tagging along. Having fought to get a part of his brand, a good-looking, multiracial, fit athlete with a pretty blonde wife, companies such as Procter & Gamble and Gillette are dumping him quicker than you would fire a caddie with a chronic cough. After initially vowing to stick by their man, Accenture changed its mind and jumped ship as well.

"For the past six years, Accenture and Tiger Woods have had a very successful sponsorship arrangement and his achievements on the golf course have been a powerful metaphor for business success in Accenture's advertising," the management company said. "However, given the circumstances of the last two weeks, after careful consideration and analysis, the company has determined that he is no longer the right representative for its advertising."

Accenture added, rather gratuitously, that "it wishes only the best for Tiger Woods and his family". So much for sticking by their man, for richer for poorer. Never trust a company with a made-up name. What exactly does Accenture do anyway? Their advertisements do not tell us. Their latest offering, pulled in the nick of time, had Mr Woods standing in grass up to his waist looking for his ball. "At a time when it's tougher than ever to be a Tiger, it's even more crucial to know what it takes. Talk to us to see how we can help," went the sales pitch.

Accenture seems to think that being associated with the golfer is bad for their image. I would argue that it is equally bad for their image to drop him at the first hint of trouble. As their ad says: "It's not a setback. It's a test." But who wants a consultant who drops you when the going gets rough? Gillette was equally quick to wash their hands of him, saying with apparent lack of irony that as Tiger had requested privacy, it was not planning to run any more commercials with him in them. With friends like these -

The question remains to what extent Tiger has devalued his brand and whether he can recover. All the experts agree that he is doomed. His mistake, they say, was not to come clean, to attempt a cover-up. Who can blame him? What would you do? Brands have discovered that when they show less than full disclosure, the consumer punishes them. But Tiger is not a fizzy drink full of Benzedrine. As experts often are, they will be proved wrong. I hate to upset marriage guidance counsellors, but Tiger's actions will only make him more loveable for middle-aged golfing fans, most of whom are male.

They would love to hit a golf ball like he does and also to have a list of young ladies on their mobile phones. If there were a complaint about him before, it was that he was bloodless and played like a robot. He was clearly fiercely competitive though not a team player. That has all changed. Accenture may have liked him for his blandness, but his followers will like him because he has proved he is human.

If I were running a company, I would want my logo on his shirt, bag and cap. When he comes back and wins the Masters, he will prove that to err is human, but to really mess things up takes a robot. @Email:rwright@thenational.ae