Tiger Woods may have finished 2009 as the most "powerful" athlete on Bloomberg BusinessWeek's 2010 Power 100, but the irreparable damage done to his public image by rumors of marital infidelity is likely to kill any chance of him regaining his place at the pinnacle of sports marketing. Now that the proverbial dust has settled, who's the heir apparent to Woods' endorsement throne?
Well, nobody. And if you think there's a replacement, I know a cocktail waitress in Vegas who hasn't dated Tiger yet and wants to talk to you.
In all seriousness, over the past decade, Woods has become one of the most recognizable figures in the world, a status that cannot be replicated overnight or even over the next year. According to E-Poll Market Research, Woods' 86% awareness is on par with the likes of George H.W. Bush and Tom Hanks. Few active athletes are even in his stratosphere, with Shaquille O'Neal the second most recognizable at 77%, and Michael Phelps a distant third at 60%.
What has made Woods so unique is his talent. But he also crossed racial and cultural barriers, attracting fans who typically wouldn't know a five iron from a steam iron. Thanks to him, golf's popularity—and worldwide sales of golf equipment—surged. Unlike the rest of the Power 100's top five, he really can be credited with making his sport bigger than ever.
LeBron James is Michael Jordan without the shoe line, cologne, or major motion picture.Phil Mickelson has never been anything more than the rival who's held on the longest.Albert Pujols lacks the bravado to carry a high-profile American sports marketing campaign.And Peyton Manning is more overexposed than the Sony Cyber-shot digital camera he plugs with Justin Timberlake.
But worse for the industry as a whole, Woods' fall will linger like a bad taste in the mouth of every sports marketer. Rather than looking for the next big endorser, companies will reassess the value of the spokespeople they already have, wondering what skeletons they're hiding.
If anything, Tiger's case is a disappointing, yet cautionary tale.
Do we need another Woods? Not really.
Will there be another Woods? Nobody can be Tiger but Tiger.
Click here to see the world's most powerful athletes in the 2010 Power 100.