Brand Tiger Woods and the image implications of 'transgressions'

This voice is reported by to be that of Tiger Woods in a voicemail message for 24 year-old Los Angeles cocktail waitress Jaimee Grubbs. The voicemail was allegedly received on November 24.
Jason Maloni
Washington Post Contributing Writer
Wednesday, December 2, 2009; 3:00 PM

Jason Maloni, Vice President and head of the Sports and Entertainment subpractice with Levick Strategic Communications was online Wednesday, Dec. 2 to take all your questions about the effects of Tiger Woods' admissions of 'transgressions' on his image and endorsement deals.

A transcript follows


Arlington, Va.: Michael Jordan cheated. I can't recall that impacting his endorsements.

Why should Tiger be different?

Jason Maloni: Tiger needs to be concerned because some endorsement contracts contain a "morals clause" that gives the sponsor the right to cancel or change the terms of the engagement.

As more details come to light this story could perpetuate.


Beaverton, Ore.: What are the odds that Nike scales back its endorsement deal with Tiger after this scandal? What can he do to get it back to its original level?

Jason Maloni: Tiger could certainly do more than he has done. Today's statement is perhaps an admission that his original statement didn't go far enough. If these allegations prove to be true, not now but later it may be appropriate for Tiger AND his wife to address their relationship and what they are doing moving forward.


Jason Maloni: Good afternoon and thank you for this opportunity.


San Diego, Calif.: Would your advice be the same if it was Wood's wife - also a public figure - who was caught having the affair?

Jason Maloni: I'd argue that his wife is not a public figure and that she doesn't have the same obligations as Tiger. If her actions impacted his brand, then yes, there may need to be some type of disclosure.


Florida: Would Tiger's image have been hurt more or less than it currently is if no affair allegations had come out, but his wife had been charged with domestic abuse?

Jason Maloni: That's hard to say. Part of the reason why there is such interest in Tiger's case this week is that it involves sex and, just as important, apparently an obfuscation.

It's important to point out we don't know all the facts here but much of the world is following this story with interest.


Washington, D.C.: Which one endorsement product do you think Tiger could be at most risk of losing?

Jason Maloni: Gillette. No one wants to buy razors from a spokesman scarred in a domestic dispute. We don't know that for a fact but that was the early implication.


Washington, D.C.: On the one hand, Tiger's transgressions are his own business. On the other hand, the bigger question is why men get married if they can't remain loyal and why they risk putting their spouses and children through this humiliation. If you aren't into monogamy, don't get married. This sends a message to all the kids who follow him that he's above basic morals and ethics and it's okay to cheat. Why is this such a problem in so many societies?

Jason Maloni: Human beings are flawed and men AND women make mistakes. What's most important is what we do once we've made a mistake.

If true, as egregious as infidelity is, what's more concerning is when someone is not as forthcoming as they should be.

David Letterman handled this superbly. Tiger, to date, has not.


Effects on performance: How do you think this could effect Tiger's performance on the course? No one is immune to criticism and family strife. Do we have any idea how he'll respond to it? Doesn't seem like there's any kind of an established path for him with that.

Jason Maloni: One reason Tiger needs to be very concerned about this matter is because he is an active athlete. He is competing much of the year and because he is so good, any drop in his performance (even finishing second at a tournament) will cause this story to surface.

If true, these indiscretions will become a footnote to every tournament appearance unless he does more to manage this crisis.


Washington, D.C.: Should Tiger stay out of the spotlight until things blow over, or do something to rehab his image right away?

Jason Maloni: If it appears as if his statement today still has people asking questions, Tiger would be wise to announce that he and his wife will sit down with one reporter at some point in the next week or two and discuss their relationship. There they can be seen together. Elin can speak and people can hear in her own words how she feels. She is an important part of the equation that, to this point, hasn't been heard from.

Today or tomorrow is too soon. Some time needs to pass for her. Then it would be appropriate.


Washington, D.C.: Are there different international implications than domestic ones for Tiger? Will those abroad view infidelity more stringently or leniently than they are likely to here?

Jason Maloni: That remains to be seen. Different cultures view infidelity differently. Tiger is not a politician who has held himself up to be a moral person who embraces family values.

Nonetheless, cheating is cheating and - if true - he will damage his brand somewhat.

The long term impact remains to be seen and, again, if his form drops, or he gets injured, this issue will surface again and Tiger doesn't need that.


Alexandria, Va.: I appreciate the quality of scandal that Tiger and the Salahis are bringing to our Post. I feel almost British!

Jason Maloni: Tiger is a global story because he's a global brand.

The gatecrashers at the White House are another matter and, because this is Washington and because it represents an apparent failure of the White House security, its very relevant.

But the two stories are apples and oranges.


Arlington, Va.: Is there something about golf that makes this seem even more unseemly? It's known -- or has the image of -- being such a civilized sport. Does that make Tiger's infidelity look worse?

Jason Maloni: Sport is bigger than the sportsman. I'm confident that this will have no bearing on one of the most popular games in the world. That said, the Phil Mickelsons and Tiger Woods of the world are the story lines that make following sports so interesting.

And if John Daly can't bring down a sport, it's hard to imagine what will.


Back behind Jack Nicklaus: It seemed like everyone assumed that Tiger was going to surpass Jack Nicklaus's legacy. Does this affect that, regardless of his total victories? Will this come back to hurt him more in retirement?

Jason Maloni: Too early to say what impact this event will have. The good news is nothing is insurmountable and there is little wounds that can't heal if you take the right steps to treat them.


Philadelphia: Tiger is basically already loaded beyond belief - he can take a year off, do the old spend time with the fam ... stay in shape via practice, practice, practice - come back from teh ashes - regain the throne and refuse to be a pitch man and/or interviews with all reporters. I see this as his best approach.

Jason Maloni: Interesting point but most professional athletes aren't content to retire and sit on their winnings. They are competitors and they want to compete. This is why so many of them unretire even though they don't need the money.


San Antonio, Texas: Tiger,

I do not buy products because of endorsement by celebrities but if I did, buying a car, shaving blades or watches has nothing to do with who the endorser sleeps with. If it does I must be watching the wrong advertising.

Jason Maloni: Major sponsors would disagree with you.


Truth, Mo.: Isn't it true that aside from the endorsements and the branding facade - most sports fans, like those who follow Tiger, can care less about this issue - aside from the entertainment value.

Um, lets say Tiger loses ALL endorsements, so his $100 million fortune just remains at that ... ohhhh, what a major problem he has.

Jason Maloni: It remains to be seen how much Tiger's fans care about this issue. Web traffic would suggest that a large percentage of the world's web surfers find it VERY interesting.

You assume Tiger can continue to still play at a high level despite this crisis. He very well may. But if he were to under perform at any time in the next year, you can bet that this story will come up again and again.


Hollywood, Calif.: As always, Michael Levine just released a statement saying that Tiger will be back and better than ever. What do you think? Do you agree?

Here's how it read:

"Three years from now the current media crises will mean nothing to the career and life of Tiger Woods" said Hollywood media expert and author Michael Levine. "What now seems to be kryptonite to Superman will be spinach to Popeye in a couple of years," said Levine.

While Tiger's media spin got off to a slow-start last weekend Levine says, "he has gone on the offensive now and I think the worst is behind him. I certainly expect several more women to come forth and claim their 15 minutes of fame but I separate those 24 hour stories from lasting impact," said Levine

Jason Maloni: That perspective may very well come true but few problems solve themselves.

Again, people can forgive a transgression but what Tiger should be concerned about is that he is perceived as not being completely honest with his fans.


Boston: So which is harder PR situation to handle - Tiger having an affair or Elliot Spitzer's prostitution sting?

Jason Maloni: Both are serious but there are differences. Eliot Spitzer was perhaps the nation's most visible Attorney General charged with enforcing the law. To be associated with prostitution was far more damaging to his career.

To his credit, Eliot Spitzer confronted cameras in a very direct way and made what apparently is a full disclosure with his wife standing by his side.

Despite the fact that he is an athlete, Tiger could take a page from this playbook.


Arlington, Va.: Accenture's tag line is "Go on, be a Tiger"

Any chance they'll be rethinking that campaign now?

Jason Maloni: All smart advertising folks are able to change messages in minutes and pull or adjust ad buys as needed. I expect you'll see some modifications in the coming days if this matter remains in the news.


Washington, D.C.: Isn't it likely that hecklers will bring this up at any match he plays? How can his game NOT be affected and or how can he avoid "losing it" publicly?

Jason Maloni: Most pro athletes are very good at tuning out the crowd. Even if golf's eerie silence is shattered by the peanut gallery, I'd be more interested in the posters and placards people carry in the crowd.

This is what Tiger can expect this year.


New York, N.Y.: (apparently there is now a recorded phone message with Elin on it)

You're on the website of a major newspaper, which, due to the nature of this story, has had to "sit the story out" because it's too "tabloid." What does this tell us about how difficult it will be for major newspapers to remain viable?

Jason Maloni: This is a prurient story because of the infidelity allegations. It's also a business story because Tiger is the world's most successful athlete and one of the most recognizable brands.

For this reason, and because Tiger has handled this poorly, it is a fair story for anyone.


Arlington, Va: Tiger Woods got fantastic and fawning publicity during his career and I note Golf Digest has yet to assign a staff reporter to this story. I don't see how this wave of negative publicity and daily revelations of other women can help him. I think it is devastating to someone who created himself as wholesome, stable and well-rounded. Do you think this will also set off a reexamination in the press of how they handle people like Tiger. We do not need another sickie or another O.J.

Jason Maloni: Tiger is about a million miles away from OJ's orbit. Period.


Washington, D.C.: How much of the media's hostility to Tiger during this episode can be traced to Tiger's years of stiff-arming the media? I wonder if columnists would have gone easier on Tiger had he taken the time to be friendly and personally open with them?

Jason Maloni: Good question. Athletes and celebrities do a far better job these days of engaging fans and fostering that relationship. Much of this is because of a variety of digital channels available to them.


Timonium, Md.: This is a personal issue. Tiger is not a public official or a religius leader. He has no obligation (other than any clauses in his endorsement contracts) to discuss this outside of his family.

If, in the future, he just swipes aside all questions on this and talks only about golf, how much will that hurt his endorsements?

Jason Maloni: I agree with your first statement. This is a personal issue. The story would likely lose a lot of it fuel if his wife were to simply say "I love Tiger and we're committed to one another. Our marriage has had its difficult moments just as many marriages do. We working on these issues as a family."

This would be a game changer.


Washington, D.C.: In partial response to Truth, Mo., isn't it true that most fans do care about the type of person they are rooting for, not just what they do on the field? One of the main reasons that Phil Mickelson has probably surpassed Tiger in popularity in the golf crowd is that he comes across as a good guy and a family man. Jack Nicklaus was also popular because he was a family man. It matters. Now, if we learn that Phil has cheated on Amy, then he becomes scum of the earth like John Edwards.

Jason Maloni: John Edwards had a different problem. As a candidate for president he held himself up as a moral man who embraced true family values and liberally used his family in campaign appearances.

One could argue that John Edwards' greatest crime wasn't his infidelity but his hypocrisy.


Jason Maloni: Folks, that's all I have time for today. Thank you Washington Post for allowing me to address this topic.

You can follow my commentary each week on the Washington Post's NFL blog "The League."

Jason Maloni

Levick Strategic Communications


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