Commentary

Local tourneys, other players to feel effects of Tiger, Buick breakup

Originally Published: November 24, 2008
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

Perhaps the sting is lessened somewhat by knowing that the little guy is not the only one suffering through these economic times. Even one of the most famous athletes in the world has to take a hit.

Tiger Woods, we can safely say, is going to be just fine, despite having to do without the $8 million or so a year General Motors was paying him to be a spokesman for its Buick line of cars. Effective Dec. 31, the beleaguered company is cutting short its five-year deal that started in February of 2004.

And while Woods has multimillions of dollars' worth of endorsement deals to fall back on -- not to mention more than $82 million in career PGA Tour earnings -- this ought to be yet another harsh warning that golf at the professional level is in for a rough ride.

There are those who had a tough time believing that Woods was driving around town with wife Elin and baby Sam in a Buick Lucerne, but it is still easy to understand why Buick sought to hook itself to the champion golfer in 1999.

"We feel he has been good beyond belief," said Larry Peck, Buick's golf marketing manager, at this summer's Buick Open -- where Woods was unable to compete due to knee surgery.

"To partner with arguably the No. 1 athlete of all time -- not just golfer -- we feel we're getting tremendous value. He's so recognizable. He is such a great role model. He carries himself so well. He's a great partner.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Robert Benson/US PresswireAfter nine years as partners, Tiger Woods will no longer be a spokesman for struggling automaker General Motors and its Buick line.
"When you put Tiger in an ad, people watch. We know there is no better way to get awareness out than putting Tiger in an ad. We introduced a new vehicle, the Enclave, in November of '06. What better person to use than the most recognized person on the planet? He does a lot for the brand."

Apparently not enough, as the numerous recent reports of General Motors red ink have led to talk of a federal bailout.

We expect Tiger to make every clutch putt, but we probably should not think it is possible for him to beat back a worldwide recession.

Still, this is ominous for the golf world, which has already seen Buick cut back on its long-standing commitment to provide courtesy cars for players and officials at numerous PGA Tour events in 2009. What will be next?

While PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced a fully sponsored schedule for 2009 two weeks ago -- "I'm delighted to say that the demise of the PGA Tour has been overstated considerably," he boasted -- what went unsaid is how golf tournaments will be affected at the lower levels of title sponsorship.

Yes, the PGA Tour has signed deals with every one of its sponsors through at least 2010 -- including the two tournaments sponsored by Buick. But there is far more to these events than the title sponsor, which help put up funds for the purse and get the events on television.

The actual running of the tournaments is left to local organizing bodies, most of them non-profit organizations that solicit dozens if not hundreds of lower-level sponsorships and must rely on a horde of volunteers to even exist.

While it is not the $7 million or so necessary to be a title sponsor, big money -- often six-figure fees -- is spent on hospitality tents or corporate chalets. Doesn't it seem logical that these companies would cut back, too? What about the pro-am, the backbone of any tournament? These Wednesday affairs draw amateurs who pay between $5,000 and $7,000 for the day to tee it up with the pros. That money is crucial to a tournament's existence. It is not difficult to see in these times, however, that such money could be better put to use than on a round of golf filled with a bunch of goodies.

So while the tournaments are forced to make tough decisions on how to make ends meet, some of the big-name players might have to get used to dealing without some perks they've become accustomed to over the years, such as courtesy cars, cleaning services, overflowing buffets. Free range balls appear safe, but ask the guys on the Champions Tour about the days long ago when they had to pony up for those practice rocks.

And the players might figure on getting less in endorsements themselves, as all parts of the economy suffer. Maybe those club deals won't be so lucrative, as well as the ones signed with all the financial-services companies. Will corporate outings dry up? Appearance fees in Europe?

All that remains to be seen. But if it can happen to Tiger, it can happen to anyone in golf.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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