Curious to know how a sports agent would deal with Tiger Woods’ enormous problems, I turned to Steinberg. Leigh Steinberg is credited with creating the era and the industry of the Super Sports Agent. The Cal-Berkeley (undergrad and Boalt Hall School of Law) graduate has represented a stable of number one NFL Draft quarterbacks, from Atlanta Falcons’ Quarterback Steve Bartkowsky in 1973 to Warren Moon, John Elway, Drew Bledsoe, Steve Young and others. Clients include Matt Leinart, Ben Roethlisberger, Howie Long, Mark Brunell, Ricky Williams, Lennox Lewis, Troy Aikman, Bruce Smith,Thurman Thomas, Kordell Stewart, and Warren Moon
Leigh’s also had non-football clients like Olympic skater Katarina Witt, Eric Karros, Dusty Baker, Oscar de la Hoya, and John Starks to name some of them. Leigh played a cameo roll in and served as a consultant to the makers of the movie Jerry McQuire, staring Tom Cruise. Steinberg’s known as a popular media figure and hosts one of the hotest Super Bowl party tickets in town. I should know as I’ve attended six of his celeb-filled events.
With his background, I knew Leigh would have a valuable perspective on Tiger Woods problems. First and foremost from an agents’ view, will Woods’ corporate sponsors dump him? Gatorade’s decision to end the Tiger Woods drink wasn’t a matter of a sponsor pulling away from Woods as the end of a specific product line. But if Nike were to jump ship that would be a different story. “Companies have millions and millions of dollars invested in an athlete like Tiger Woods,” Leigh said, “so they’re loath to just jump ship on such an investment.”
“They are in the process of assessing what his ‘Q rating’ will be once all of this is done.”
A “Q-rating” or “Q-score” is the number that’s developed after a kind of survey process is done to determine a celebrity’s level of popularity and visibility. Once that’s done, Leign says companies will determine what their next move will be. In 2007 Tiger Woods was “a marketers dream” and called “golf’s $6 billion man”, but now that lofty position may be in jeopardy. Tiger Woods seemingly endless stream of news of alleged affairs is feeding the media beast.
“His timing is unfortunate,” Steinberg observed. “All of this comes during the development of a massive industry designed and dedicated to chronicling the fall of the high and mighty.” The “massive industry” Steinberg’s referring to is New Media: the system of websites, blogs, social networks, television, radio, video, and cellphone cameras that work to advance the rapid transfer of information at never-before-seen rates.
“And he’s hurt by the repetitive, relentless cycles of news and information, “Steinberg continued, “All of it effects how the public views him. It’s like if you see the Rodney King beating over and over again. Your image of the LAPD (LA Police Department) is that they beat blacks. Ryan Leaf (Steinberg’s famous melt-down story of a first-round NFL draft quarterback client) will always have the image of an angry person who yells at reporters because that (video of Leaf yelling at a reporter in the San Diego Chargers locker room in 1998) was replayed again and again.”
Steinberg says Tiger Woods needs to do what David Letterman has done: get out in front of and in control of the news cycle after revelations of his affair with aide Stefanie Birkitt came to light. The Jerry McGuire-star says Woods needs to first, assess his own behavior, second, own it or admit what he’s done openly, and then make sure all of the known facts are gathered so Tiger Woods Management can rapidly answer any false claims in the future, and finally apologize and publicly explain that he’s taken steps to control his behavior for the future.
The Tiger Woods Scandal is a big story because as Steinberg says, we’re talking about someone who had a squeaky-clean image. “The problem is the shock value”, Leigh offered, “the revelations come on a daily basis. Nike. AT&T, Buick, and all the corporate names are just hoping this all blows over. We’re talking about someone who’s got a name bigger than everyone except Michael Jordan.”
Steinberg says that all of the negative news washes over the good things Tiger Woods has done through his foundation as well as his barrier-breaking success as an African American in a rich, white-man’s sport: golf. This isn’t a case of there being no such thing as bad-PR because of his clean image being sullied by associations with porn stars. Bad PR is hurting Woods.
Steinberg asserts that Woods can’t expect to be a private person; the secrecy Woods craves is unrealistic. Leigh counsels his athletes that they’re always in the public eye in the age of the cell-phone camera. One of his clients, Matt Leinart, learned that the hard way when photos of the Arizona Cardinals quarterback with an allegedly underage girl were taken using a cell phone… at Leinart’s home.