Seeing as the Year of the Tiger has just begun, I thought it might be appropriate to discuss the circus surrounding the golfer Tiger Woods right now.
As I happened to be in the U.S. on February 19th, I had the privilege to watch the full 13:32 minute long press conference called for by Tiger Woods himself. Or rather I had no choice as that was the only ‘piece of news’ discussed on TV that day. Even before that, the mere announcement of the press conference was considered ‘Breaking News’.
After the press conference (during which Tiger revealed nothing newsworthy whatsoever, except extended his apologies to everyone feeling like they deserved one) at least 50 different experts commented on the degree to which Tiger’s apologies were really earnest and numerous laymen informed us of their opinion of Tiger’s personal character. One journalist even approached the Dalai Lama, wondering what the Dalai Lama thought Tiger should do. The Dalai Lama replied “Who is Tiger Woods?” which tells us the most interesting facts of this whole deal: that the Dalai Lama does not watch American news broadcasts, nor is he a golf fan. Albeit interesting, this is not really newsworthy either.
If you somehow have managed to escape the story, let me give you the background: In November last year, Tiger Woods was rushed to the hospital after having crashed his black Escalade into a tree 30 metres from his drive-way at the impressive speed of 10 km/h. The first accounts of the sequence of events told of how Tiger’s Swedish wife (having a Swedish wife apparently makes Tiger Woods half-Swedish), Elin, had run to Tiger’s rescue with a 5-iron in hand, trying to pull him from the burning flames of the soon-to-explode wreck. Later, the story was revised to Elin holding a 9-iron and the reason for the crash being Elin, furious with anger, chasing after Tiger, trying to smash in his head rather than the windows of the Escalade.
The media went wild over the story. It was on every newsstand in Sweden and all news broadcasts covered the story intensively. Had Tiger been hurt? Had he been driving under the influence? What club had Elin really grabbed? What eventually seeped out through the cracks in the wall of silence surrounding Tiger’s personal life that he had spent many years trying to build, was the story of adultery. The story of Tiger & Jiamee, Tiger & Denise, Tiger & Caroline, Tiger & whoever, whatever, wherever.
In the state of Florida (where Tiger lives), adultery is, unlike driving under the influence not a federal offense. Yet the story of Tiger’s numerous affairs caused an uproar a hundred times worse than had he been caught with a few beers too many under his belt.
During the following months, nearly all of Tiger Woods’ sponsors broke their contracts with him. Accenture, one of the biggest sponsors, had been using Tiger as a metaphor of how they do business. Their advertising had the tagline “Go On. Be a Tiger.”The obvious risk of ridicule made them quickly replace all of their ads with a new one, featuring an elephant. The tabloids closely followed Elin’s every step and they had a field day when Elin’s mother, the former Swedish minister of migration, was rushed to the hospital because of “anxiety issues relating to the Elin-Tiger situation”.
A few weeks ago, Hannu Olkinuora, the editor-in-chief of the Finnish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet, held a lecture at SSE, arguing that the way forward for traditional news media is to stress the importance of good journalism. “Journalism is a craft. Good journalism should not be underestimated”, Olkinuora said. “Furthermore, people consuming news need the filtering and sorting function that traditional news media perform”. According to Olkinuora, given a strategy of emphasizing good journalism, traditional news media would never be replaced by crowd-sourced material or news bloggers.
At the risk of sounding like a 40 year old, moldy, piece of cheese; contrasting to what Mr. A believes to be a sustainable strategy for traditional news media, my perspective of the general trend in the industry is that news reporting is gradually becoming more narrow-minded and more alike gossiping at the expense of ‘educative’ news. And I am not referring only to CNN, NBC News and their likes; this includes my own sweetheart morning newspaper Dagens Nyheter. This brings me to my point: Is Olkinuora’s future strategy of promoting superior quality too naïve to achieve sustainable profitability? Is not the current strategy of most traditional news media companies to achieve as high ratings, or sell as many singles copies as possible? If the trend is one of ‘commercialization’ of news reporting this could lead to a surge in crowdsourced news reporting, news bloggers and customized news reporting instead, as people turn to these sources to get informed. Or does the general public simply not care anymore? Are we just more stupid and less curious than our grandparents were?
Another interesting question this story raises is how close the relationship between sponsors and their brand ambassadors should be. Having been the best paid athlete in history, many of the sponsors leaving the ship will not sink Tiger’s boat. But should everything you do as an athlete, including when outside of the the playing field, be subject to intense scrutinizing and considered possible reason to breach the contract?
Keeping Tiger’s story in mind, it contrasts starkly with the brand ambassador strategy that the street fashion brand WeSc employ, where they consider all of their ‘We-activists’ part of their family. “You don’t disown members of your family just because they make one stupid mistake. At least we don’t.”(Greger Hagelin, CEO of WeSc, during a lecture at SSE in Nov. 2009). Personally, I think Hagelin has a point there. I’d like to argue that a sponsorship deal is a partnership between the brand and the athlete and what you do outside the playing field should not be as important as the results you produce practicing your sport, since that is really your basic source of fame and admiration as an athlete. Nevertheless, I do realize that the case of Tiger Woods is slightly different. He was considered practically the closest thing to Jesus, with a perfect rags-to-riches story featuring Tiger as the underdog who achieves greatness through hours and hours of hard labor. Thus, he became a role model in a greater sense than just as a good athlete. Falling from grace the way Tiger did might therefore be considered a justifiable reason for his sponsors to leave him, but it is my opinion that many of them would be better off in the long run sticking with Tiger throughout this whole affair. After all, who really wants a brand that will leave you once the milk starts turning sour?
What do you think?