Issues in Public Relations – Crisis PR

Posted on March 4, 2010


Why Nike have kept hold of their trump card

“Iconic figures from the world of sport or entertainment attract the kind of devotion once reserved for saints or prophets. Celebrities such as Tiger Woods, David Beckham and P.Diddy not only endorse brands, but are brands themselves with a market value most companies can only dream of.” Matt Haig, Brand Royalty.

Before the recent damaging revelations, Woods was seen as a true sporting professional who transcends the sport itself, and a perfect public relations tool to promote a brand. He has the ability to create increased media coverage and offer the brand credibility and recognition. “I thank him all the time for it because he deserves it, not just for the purses but the interest in the game of golf… Because that leads to increased revenue opportunities off the course, companies that wouldn’t be interested in golf, he’s helped bring to the game. So it’s been beneficial for every player out here, myself included.” So says Phil Mickelson. Today the shamed golfer is being ridiculed in the press, with many doubting the once idolized star’s ability to shake off this level of negative publicity. Clearly many of his sponsors also feel his brand appeal is no longer what it once was.

There are those however, who would also feel that some organizations were hasty in their decision to drop Woods from their list of sponsors. Yes, his image has been badly tarnished but it has not reached a point from which it cannot be recovered. There are a number of reasons which would support the fact that given time Tiger Woods can make a full recovery, and this is why Nike have kept faith in one of their most prized assets.

The Brand

Today anyone can be a celebrity, for example by simply appearing on Big Brother or X-Factor and you have a sure fire way of receiving media coverage for a few months. There is a big difference, however, between being a celebrity and being a superstar. In the sporting world, there are a handful who will really be remembered for being the best at what they did. Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Pele and yes, Tiger Woods, would make the grade of the all time greats in their respective sporting fields. It is for this reason, that like Jordan, Woods is regarded as more than a player. With the announcement Hello world Tiger Woods burst onto the professional golf scene in 1996 and was quickly recognized as being more than just an outstanding talent, but a brand, and he has capitalized on this. Since signing his first deal with Nike, he has helped to break new grounds for their Nike Golf range as well as further enhancing the popularity of the sport. “He’s giving the game a broader appeal, especially from the ethnic and race perspective. I think he’ll change the game globally. That may be his finest accomplishment.” PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem. The impact Woods has had on the game can be seen anytime he does not partake in a competition. The televised viewing rates fall dramatically, Without Woods, televised tournaments are like a major motion picture without a star’s name above the title — rarely do people go to see the flick,” said Bill Carroll, of Katz TV Group. Recent media figures from the States have found that there is a drop of around 50% in viewers when Woods is not playing in a tournament. This is because he is immediately recognizable to the golfer and non-golfer alike. The Tiger Woods brand is bigger than the game and he is recognized globally. Prior to his recent difficulties his image was used to promote products and services such as EA Sports, PepsiCo, Gillette and Accenture among others – all global companies.

Impatiently waiting

It is fair to say that the general public did not expect to discover the world number 1 golfer to be a serial adulterer and now many have lost a great deal of respect for him. He was portrayed as a true professional, a loving family man, he had a clean-cut image, and he was a scandal free sports star. Woods was admired the world over, kids looked up to him, men wanted to be like him and women wanted to be with him (and apparently many succeeded).

After stepping away from the limelight for a few months, he held a conference in February to apologize to his family, friends, colleagues and supporters for his self described irresponsible and selfish behavior. While his emotional apology was largely well received, as Woods is idolized for his golfing ability, the main talking point after the conference was not his apology but the fact that he did not say when he will he return to game. Until that day comes, we will wait in anticipation, and when it does, the crowds will be behind him, just like they always were.

He is not the first and will not be the last

Unfortunately, infidelity and other crisis management issues are seen as being almost part of the package deal that comes with a celebrity endorsement. High profile sport stars such as Kobe Bryant and David Beckham have admitted to being unfaithful in the past, and were subject to heavy criticism by the press and the public for doing so. Many believed they too had ruined their brand image. However, Bryant and Beckham were able to move beyond it and continue to have incredible success, both on and off the field. Given time, Woods’ situation will not be any different. They are able to do so because public outrage eventually fades, the press gets wind of a new story and the next celebrity crisis makes the front pages. This is how it usually goes, except in the case of John Terry. All four men were married with children when news broke about their philandering ways, yet unlike the others, Terry and his PR team will have far more difficulty in shaking off the negative press coverage. While cheating under any circumstance is perceived badly in the eyes of the public, Terry took it a step further by ignoring the sacred code amongst men. The main criticism levied at the former England captain is not that he betrayed his wife, but that he betrayed his friend, and in the eyes of the media and the general public (especially males), that is an act which is far more difficult to forgive.

Nike’s view of the situation

It would appear that Nike has taken the view that time heals all things and that pretty soon this controversy will be consigned to the dustbin of history. Having said that his professional advisors have gone to great lengths in preparing Woods for his comeback. The press conference at which he made a comprehensive public apology was clearly designed to pave the way for his return to the game. They obviously feel that by coming out with his hands up, Woods will get a more sympathetic hearing from the public. This is important because when he comes back he needs to focus on his game, as this matter will be very quickly forgotten when and if he wins his next tournament. Luckily however, if Woods does revert back to his old ways, there is an app for that, called Tiger Text. It is a device which allows the sender of a text to delete the message once the recipient has read it.

In deciding to stick with Woods, Nike executives will be privately hoping for two things. Firstly, they will not want any further damaging revelations. Secondly, they will be hoping that Woods ends his self imposed hiatus from golf in the very near future, and gets back to doing what he does best, that is being the best golfer of his generation.  He has made a start on the restoration of his image, and assuming he has not lost his swing or his hunger for the game, he should soon get back to his winning ways and repay Nike for its support for him during this difficult period. Of course only time will tell but many feel if anyone can make a successful comeback, it is Tiger Woods.