A Year Later: Tiger's Agent Opens Up
CNBC Sports Business Reporter
Almost a year ago, Tiger Woods' car accident in his driveway set into motion a series of events that led to the revelation of his startling infidelity. As a result, Tiger lost sponsorships and his marriage, suffered significant brand damage and went an entire year without winning a tournament. Throughout the year, Tiger's agent Mark Steinberg, IMG senior vice president and global managing director, chose to say very little publicly. With the year anniversary approaching, Steinberg sat down with CNBC.com for a wide ranging interview...
Darren: Mark, how hard was this last year for you?
Steinberg: It was tough. But life is about standing by the people who you know are your friends, and I stand by my clients. It was difficult, but if I were presented with what happened again, I'd do the exact same thing.
Darren: Does it seem like a year has gone by?
Steinberg: It seems like a hell of a lot longer than a year.
Darren: A lot of people were very hard on Tiger and hard on you. How do you answer to all the legions of "experts" and media who questioned you how you personally and IMG managed this crisis? Would you have done anything differently from a strategic standpoint?
Steinberg: There was no playbook to the situation that was in front of us. Regardless of how everything was handled, there would be questions. What gets lost is that there was a family dynamic involved and dealing with that was paramount to everything. We are now 12 months removed and the focus must be on the future. Tiger is committed and optimistic about his family and his future.
Darren: Did you ever think about leaving Tiger or did he ever say he was considering leaving you and IMG?
Steinberg: Absolutely not.
Darren: Were you prepared for the sponsor fallout?
Steinberg: I can't say I was surprised. I obviously knew there would be some fallout. But we do have a great future ahead. Soon he'll have a bag deal with a new partner and within time I am confident there will be a global brand that will be using his name and likeness.
Darren: AT&T, Gatorade and Accenture severed deals with Tiger. You told the Associated Press that you were surprised that one of them in particular disassociated with him. Can you tell us which one?
Steinberg: I'd prefer not to say.
Darren: Can you say how much Tiger lost in endorsement deals this past year?
Darren: Tiger was the top earner in the endorsement world. Do you think he'll ever get back to that position again and earn as much money as he did?
Steinberg: I think we live in a society that is about second chances. And if he conducts himself the way he has been, continues his rehabilitation and performs on the golf course, I do believe he'll be back where he was before.
Darren: How close are you to a new endorsement deal?
Steinberg: We're close to a deal coming out of Asia and we're in discussions with a number of companies interested in being on his golf bag.
Darren: Because of what happened, will new deals come at a discount to previous prices?
Steinberg: It will be a case-by-case basis. But we're definitely being aggressive. I think people thought that I just answered the phones when company executives called. That was never the case. I've always been proactive. The thing was, I wasn't just going to pick a date and decide that that would be the date that we'd engage in the marketplace and seek new sponsors. It had to really be the right time and four weeks ago, we knew it was the right time. That's when we started talking business again.
Darren: How did you know it was the right time?
Steinberg: We commissioned a study that involved polling of a certain target demographic.
Darren: So it was, in a way, scientific, not necessarily about the year anniversary of the events.
Darren: Yet, Tiger does the Mike & Mike interview on ESPN Radio and pens the column for Newsweek and he's criticized for trying to get ahead of the story. Your reaction to that negative reaction?
Steinberg: He got chastised for not talking and not connecting to the public and then he does what he does and that's not good enough either. I don't think the public has been as hard on him as the media has.
Darren: People were surprised when he started using Twitter last week. Why did he do it?
Steinberg: Well, he's not a technology geek at all, but Twitter has taken the world by storm and it definitely piqued his interest. It's a great way to connect with his fans en masse.
Darren: Nike didn't use Tiger much this year. Some say it's because he didn't win. Does he have to win order for Nike to use him in 2011?
Steinberg: I think you'll see him back in the mainstream fold in 2011.
Darren: Did he have to give any money back to the companies that stuck by him like Nike and Electronic Arts since he either wasn't used or sales weren't as high?
Steinberg: No. We have partnerships with those companies and they fully support him.
Darren: The economy has really hurt the golf construction business. Has anything changed with Tiger's golf course design business?
Steinberg: Nope. It's the same business. We were never going to do two or three courses a year. In the US, it has been difficult. Asia looks more promising. The course in North Carolina is proceeding and we're in discussions over the timeline of things in Dubai.Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com