Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Fall of IMG

I have hesitated to comment on the Tiger Woods affair(s) primarily because it doesn’t naturally fall into my normal blogging sphere of interest, despite the fact that I do play golf.

However, I have listened to a lot of informed and not so informed comment by PRs on both sides of the Atlantic in recent days, offering advice on how to handle this crisis, the most often heard being that Team Tiger need to “get out in front of the story”. The problem I have with this theory is that it pre-supposes Mr Woods has been open and honest with his advisers about all of his failings or, more likely, that his management team, International Management Group (IMG), have been totally upfront about Mr Woods’ ‘transgressions’ with their retained PR advisers.

You can only get in front of something if you know the full extent of what has gone on. The impression you get at the moment is that Team Tiger is reeling from one revelation to the next with no idea how deep this hole actually is.

There is another, for me anyway, more interesting point in all of this. IMG has been the pre-eminent sports management agency (think Jerry Maguire) in the world for nearly half a century. Founded by the late Mark McCormack, golf was the foundation block on which IMG was built, in particular McCormack’s own personal relationship with the American golfer Arnold Palmer. IMG was the driving force behind Brand Tiger which has pulled in hundreds of millions of dollars in endorsement contracts based upon his clean cut image. The problem, as we are now seeing, is that the reality is not just slightly different from the brand but is actually poles apart. Wide enough for the media to drive multiple double decker buses through.

It would appear that, at best, IMG has been naïve in its dealings with Woods, at worst it has been party to an enormous public deception to make billions of dollars. Matthew Syed writing in The Times yesterday, eloquently explains why the money makes this a legitimate public interest story.

The collateral damage of this affair will almost certainly affect IMG as much as it does Woods. Mark McCormack will be turning in his grave.


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