Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

Can Tiger Be "Hotter Than Ever?"

When Donald Trump told “Extra” that “Tiger is going to be hotter than ever before” it certainly did what Trump is good at doing — getting attention.

But is it right?

Tiger Woods

Well, first of all, it depends on what happens on the golf course. Can Tiger return to his old form with the new challenges he faces?

Then it depends on whether the initial buzz has some lasting power. We already know that Tiger’s presence in non-majors typically boost ratings by double. Will some of the tabloid-reading crowd, who never watched Tiger, now tune in and stay tuned in?

A little more than six years ago, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said this about Kobe Bryant, after he was charged with sexual assault:

“From a business perspective, it’s great for the NBA," Cuban said in Aug. 2003. "It’s reality television. People love train wreck television and you hate to admit it, but that is the truth. That’s the reality today.”

Bryant's case wasn't as drawn out as it could have been, as his criminal case was dropped and the civil case was settled. Today, Cuban told me via e-mail: "Just look at the ratings back then. Of course I was right."

The league’s regular season television ratings on cable that season were up big for the majority of the games — broadcast by ESPN (up 8.3 percent) and TNT (up 16.7%).

Was the coverage of Kobe ultimately good for the NBA? Well, it’s hard to tell because there are simply too many factors at work, including the rookie seasons of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. But it certainly didn't damage the league.

As for Tiger, Cuban has similar thoughts telling me today, "Who won't watch Tiger's next tournament to see how all this affects him?" Cuban wrote. "Won't you be watching?..."What I said then is more applicable today in the entertainment world. We used to love a parade, now we love a train wreck."

Bryant’s predicament and Tiger’s situation obviously are not directly comparable in every area. But Bryant’s marketing comeback is cited as evidence that Tiger can become marketable again.

The case against Bryant was dropped, but Kobe also came through on the court. He scored 81 points, he won the league MVP and last year, another title. But what you also have to remember about team sport athletes that have made marketing comebacks is that they have cities of people rooting for them to make that comeback. Tiger is on his own.

Can Tiger ever return to his same marketable self? It’s not likely because he was at the peak of a historic career. But it’s also not likely that he’ll have no deals. And who knows? Maybe Woods doesn’t want to do any more deals even if they come to him one day. Maybe he doesn’t want to do anything more outside of golf.

The difference between Kobe and Tiger and how the organizations they play for are affected is that Kobe — as long as he was playing —didn’t have a choice when and where to play. Woods is an independent contractor. That’s why it’s harder to figure out at this time where the PGA Tour fits in all of this. 

Questions?  Comments?

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