Personal or professional, business isn't good for Tiger

by | Senior Writer

During his 16 seasons on tour, Tiger Woods has been featured in a slew of TV commercials, including some that required actual acting, timing and theatrical chops. He has a Screen Actors Guild card.

OK, sure, he hasn't filmed any acting lately for all the obvious reasons, because as a marketable commodity, even Nike can't much use him at the moment. But that underscores the notion that's about to be presented -- he's far too rusty to have pulled off what would have represented his greatest thespian effort ever.

Tiger Woods hasn't signed an endorsement deal since his scandal broke. (Getty Images)  
Tiger Woods hasn't signed an endorsement deal since his scandal broke. (Getty Images)  
At a press session Tuesday outside of Philadelphia, Woods was asked about the state of his relationship with longtime agent Mark Steinberg and management agency IMG. The fading former world No. 1 looked his inquisitor in the eye and seemed sincere.

For those who say that you can tell when Woods is bull-shooting us whenever his lips are moving, this would have been Oscar-worthy.

"I'm committed to both, with IMG, and Mark's my agent," he said, not batting an eye and seeming rather surprised the issue was broached.

So given the unblinking delivery, it's hard to believe he knew what was coming later in the day, when Steinberg was put on waivers by IMG after his contract-renewal talks with the company abruptly broke down, according to reports.

Agents come and go, in all sports. It's inside-baseball stuff, generally. Players sue agents. Agents sue players. Agents leave companies. Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus left IMG. This development is different because of the timing, circumstances and protagonists. The Shark and Bear were at the top of their sports at the time.

It presents Woods with more nagging, niggling details to sort out as he tries to re-assemble a reputation and career that have corroded from the bottom up starting with his 2009 sex scandal. Now he is facing yet another big-money divorce -- either from his agent and friend, Steinberg, or the management firm that helped put him on the marketing map and secured endorsement deals that made him the first billionaire earner in sports history.

"I'm very happy with both," Woods said Tuesday.

Pick one.

It adds another layer to the upchucking upheaval in Woods' personal and private lives, and in this instance, there's crossover. Steinberg stuck by Woods at his lowest ebb as the stomach-turning scandal played out -- sure, he had a financial stake in it -- and is one of Woods' few personal confidants. A divorce from IMG or Steinberg is going to potentially cut across all boundaries.

What's next, Steve Williams quitting? Come to think of it, plenty of folks have noticed that the longtime caddie hasn't been doing much whistling while he works for Woods lately, either, and was none too crazy when he was painted by a broad, bad brush when the scandal broke.

For the past 18 months, Woods hasn't so much lived a life as endured a ginormous, endless distraction. Cops, lawyers, judges, disgraced Canadian doctors, waitresses, porn stars, swing coaches, tour disciplinary action and a career-long victory drought. The lines blur and they've become almost impossible to separate.

In his last start, Woods quit after shooting 42 over nine holes, citing aggravated knee, Achilles and calf injuries. Now he'll need even more ibuprofen for the massive headache his management issue will certainly cause.

The latest falling domino adds another level of stress in an area where Woods is particularly vulnerable -- his wallet. The nuances of the agent game are interesting, because while agencies often solicit and land endorsement deals for clients, companies often take the initiative, too. They make the first call, and big firms like IMG then match up the particulars of the prospective corporate endorsement deal with the best sports figure in its client closet.

Woods won't be benefiting from any of those handout deals anymore. In fact, IMG negotiated his appearance fees, often at tournaments run overseas by one of IMG's subsidiaries (incest layer duly noted). Woods' last victory, 18 months ago at the Aussie Masters, came while he was receiving $3 million from a tournament run by IMG. His appearance-fee deal with Dubai has also reportedly expired, another revenue source that has dried up like spit in a desert.

Add them to the list. Despite assurances from Steinberg that deals were in the offing, Woods hasn't signed an endorsement deal since the scandal broke, his course-design business hasn't produced a single viable venue and the doorbell long ago stopped ringing. According to a source involved with several PGA Tour events, Steinberg has been actively shopping around the rights to Woods' bag for $5 million, with the guarantee that Woods would play in the company's tour event. The price was $8 million originally, the source said.

As the ash continues to fall around him, it's worth reminding that as far as celebrities and athletes go, Woods is fairly loyal to the crew around him, which means if Steinberg wants to continue as his management mouthpiece, he'll darned likely get the chance. Steinberg presumably knows where many of Tiger's silicone-enhanced bodies are buried, after all.

But hanging his shingle as a solo act, or even as part of another firm, might have its pitfalls. Whether Steinberg can reel in the clients without the institutional might of IMG behind him will bear watching. He wasn't selling Woods even with IMG's muscle, and in golf circles, Steinberg isn't exactly a universally beloved character given the heavy-handed manner in which he has handled Woods' affairs over the years. That could cost them endorsement opportunities, too, assuming Woods ever gets his game sorted out.

When will the latter happen? That's a million-dollar question of another kind, but given Tuesday's latest shock to the system, later seems like a safer bet than sooner. Yes, those are contract terms I just gave you in writing.

It's become head-spinning, and the spiral seems to have a distinctly downward arc. When the agents-of-misfortune development is added to the laundry list of personal, professional and physical issues he already faces, the guy who was once the best ever by a wide margin is now, in fact, more marginalized than ever.


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