WOW! Another great weekend in sports. Lots of action, fun and dramatic finishes over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Some of the highlights:
- Vince Young silences his critics with an incredible 99-yard, game-winning drive for the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
- College football’s “rivalry” games surpass expectations.
- Brett Favre continues to prove 40 really is the new 30 (and I'm not just saying that because I'm in the 40-40 club)!
- Tim Tebow closes out an arguably "perfect" career at Florida.
- Allen Iverson announces he is "retiring." (Only to un-retire and sign with his old club.)
- Charlie Weis was fired from Notre Dame on Monday and legendary Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden's announced his retirement today.
- Serena Williams was fined $82,000 for her outburst at last year's US Open (more on that in the coming days).
- Derek Jeter was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year (Woo Hoo)!
Of all of these great sports stories, but there is one dominating the news cycle that involves arguably the most recognizable face in sports (and possibly the world). It’s the story about Tiger Woods and the mystery surrounding his 2:30 a.m. accident last Friday.
Oh yeah. The Tiger story. So what's up with that?
Many people are asking that question and wondering, "Why should we care?" "Is this really a story?" "Doesn't Tiger have his right to privacy?" "Is he having an affair?" "Are the injuries the result of a domestic violence dispute or a car accident?"
All of these are valid questions and as crisis communications experts, it is the job of our firm to guide our clients through adverse situations. The response is crucial, but equally important is the timing of the response.
Tiger Woods is a billion-dollar brand, encompassing many corporate sponsors and individuals whose livelihoods are tied to his well-being and success. So for those who say it is a “private matter,” to a degree, maybe. But when you are the billion-dollar brand man, you lose a lot of your rights to privacy. Now if it was you or me? Few are going to care if I crash my Tahoe into a fire hydrant and tree.
How deep is the damage? It remains to be seen at this point. But it will continue to grow until Tiger addresses the media and puts an end to it.
So what should Tiger's camp be doing right now?
1. Rule Number One. ALWAYS have a crisis plan in place – BEFORE a crisis hits.
We always say a solid PR team will ensure a plan of communication is in order before a crisis hits. Obviously, we do not know what Tiger’s team did in terms of preparation, but it is important to emphasize this.
2. Get a crisis communications expert or team of experts on board immediately and develop and execute a sound strategy.
Anything short of that and you are, in effect, trying to "spin" the story to your advantage. That is not what crisis communications experts do. Instead, they will guide you on how to strategically discuss, deal and manage the crisis at hand. Tiger needs a sound strategy in place immediately. He needs to determine how he is going to talk about what happened and do it in a way where he does not appear to be hiding anything. Right now, the perception is there is something to hide because Tiger has not shown his face or spoken publicly about the issue.
3. Address the media to put an end to rumor and speculation.
For many, perception is reality. People want to see Tiger's face, hear his words and believe what he is telling them. He has built a tremendous bank of goodwill across the globe. People are pre-disposed to believe in him, so going silent for several days is not an option. It is the same as issuing a "no comment" response. Remember, this is Tiger Woods. Everybody knows his name and face. (Shoot, he's got the first name thing going on, like Sting, Madonna, Pele, Prince, etc.!)
Legal experts alone cannot help Tiger in terms of providing the best strategic advice from a communications standpoint, especially when they are saying Tiger will not be making statements to anyone. Bad move. They need to be teamed up with crisis PR experts. Managing his reputation in the court of public opinion is equally (if not more) important as managing whatever legal fallout he may be facing, if any.
4. Address your corporate sponsors and their PR teams to make sure they know what is going on. Everyone must be on the same page.
The majority of Tiger's earnings are the result of his reputation and quality PR associated with his brand. Tiger's corporate sponsors need to be briefed on how to respond to media inquiries and everyone needs to be on the same page with him. Statements must be consistent and reflect a unified front. His sponsors have people to answer to as well and need to always be in the best position possible whenever facing any type of crisis.
This will be the second straight year Tiger will not be able to participate in the Chevron World Challenge tournament this weekend in California. His doctors advised him not to travel, given his headaches and soreness from his car accident. The Florida Highway Patrol is trying to determine whether his wounds were sustained as a result of domestic violence or the accident. And the woman who is on the other side of this rumored affair has retained legal counsel, famed L.A. attorney Gloria Allred. Tiger's team must put a real end to what appears to be rampant speculation. This is critically important, as Tiger's reputation has put him in a position to become the billion-dollar brand he is. Tiger’s reputation must be safeguarded and managed properly through the crisis he is currently facing and working with sponsors is part of that.
5. Begin the process of moving forward and past the situation.
The steps here will be determined largely by what actions are taken in the previous three recommendations. There is a good chance there is very little (if any) truth to all of these rumors. But until it is addressed by the world's greatest golfer in person – and not through statements on a website or an attorney – mystery and intrigue will continue.
I admire and respect Tiger and love what he has done for the sport of golf. His impact on the sport is unprecedented and he is one of the guys who has done little to damage his reputation. He will move past this. It's just a matter of how he manages through it and what long-term impact will result.