The Tiger Woods Brand: Too Big to Let Fail

Tiger Woods returns to golfNow that the apologies have been given and the tabloids have gone after their newest prey, the world of professional golf can once again prepare itself for the return of its major meal ticket, Tiger Woods.

From April 5 through 11 in Augusta, Ga., the premier golf tournament of the year, the Masters, will command the attention of the sports world. Unlike past years, the presence of Tiger Woods at this event will send sponsors, marketing companies, television networks, hotels, airlines, restaurants and newspapers, off to the bank with wheelbarrows of cash. Woods lost a handful of sponsors, including Gatorade and Accenture, because of his off-the-course issues involving marital infidelity. Many have remained, however, most notably Nike Inc., his bread-and-butter sponsor.

Media-credential requests are always high for this event, but with the return of Woods, additional media outlets from around the world have positioned themselves to follow every move he makes. Look for Nielsen ratings to go through the roof. Events last year that included Tiger Woods drew 93 percent-or-higher ratings than events without him. Excluding majors, CBS and NBC averaged a 2.7 rating/3.992 million viewers during events with Woods; and a 1.4 rating/2.048 million viewers for events without him.

Ad rates for non-major tournaments that featured Woods in 2009 ran about $104,500 per 30-second spot, according to TNS Media. Ad rates for tournaments without Woods averaged $80,200.

Networks are sounding so confident going into the 2010 Masters because of the amount of official sponsors, marketing partners and endemic brands who buy into the telecasts. Typically, these buy about 75 percent of the media inventory during a PGA telecast on NBC or CBS. Unless those sponsors have a broader media buy with the networks, they receive no ratings guarantees on the approximately $3 million media spend, which includes TV spots, print ads and online inventory.

Network sources say ad sales for this year?s golf telecasts are ahead of last year?s. That optimism is shared by ad buyers, who do not believe Woods? problems will have a near-term effect on the health of the sport?s ad base.

?Demand might decrease a little bit, but golf is heavily tied to endemic advertisers, and they aren?t going away,? said Larry Novenstern, Optimedia executive vice president and director of national electronic media. ?You?ll still see Titleist, Calloway, Acushnet. They?re not going away. Regardless of who?s playing, if you want to reach a high-end, male audience, golf will still be one of the best places to go.?

Like those financial institutions that benefited from the government bailouts, for golf, TV and some sports marketers, Tiger Woods is too big to let fail.