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Monday, April 22, 2013

The PGA - Trappings of a One Man Brand….

With the Masters finishing up just a week ago, it has become abundantly clear that the PGA brand cannot go beyond one individual. This individual hasn’t won a major tournament since George W. Bush was president, yet, continues to be the face and the focus of the PGA. Of course, the player I am referring to is Tiger Woods and no matter where he stands on a given tournament’s leader board, you can guarantee that he will be the headline.

How bad has it gotten? Consider this, after day one, 22 players had scores at or better than Tiger Woods. What was the headline? That Tiger Woods was only 4 back. The players that were actually leading the Masters (Marc Leishman and Sergio Garcia) were a tertiary headline. On day two, Woods was assessed a 2 shot penalty for the illegal drop that was taken at the 15th hole which only served to add to the headlines with the leaders, once again, taking a back seat.

That is a shame. Tiger Woods’ continued popularity is also an albatross around the PGA’s neck. He has become the brand. While he has undoubtedly brought thousands, if not millions of new fans into the game of golf, the fact of the matter is that the PGA has aligned its brand so closely with him, that it lives and dies with Tiger’s performance. And like Tiger, the PGA is also in a 5 year slump.

The consequence of this is that the PGA is perceived to be compromising its brand for one player – and that is dangerous territory. A number of players and caddies indicated that had any other player done what Tiger did at the Masters, they would have been disqualified. Many believe that because of Woods’ popularity, he was given what amounts to a slap on the wrist.

Little things that you probably don’t notice also indicate how desperate the PGA is for a dominant Tiger Woods to rescue its brand. Take, for example, the leader board. If Tiger is tied with a group of players at a certain score, Tiger will always be listed first on television coverage, and if at all possible, on the first page of the leader board. The networks know that if a casual viewer tunes in and sees no Tiger on the leader board, they will likely refrain from watching.

The PGA is in this position because for years, it put all of its eggs in the Tiger Woods basket. Like the NBA’s reliance on Michael Jordan, it was a very successful strategy for years when Tiger, was in fact, dominating the game. But it has evolved into a tired, looking back type of a strategy when, in fact, the tour should be looking forward and communicating that is brand is bigger than one player. Look only to young Adam Scott, the charismatic Australian who actually won the Masters in a remarkable playoff over Angel Cabrera. It was exciting, dramatic, and nerve wracking to the bitter end. It represented the best of the PGA.

And that should be a lesson that the PGA takes forward. The brand must be more than one player. In fact, I would argue that the PGA has been engaging in lazy marketing by leveraging Woods’ prior dominance at the expense of looking at the bigger picture. Now the brand is paying the price. A lesson for the PGA: Become bigger. Leverage the holistic umbrella of the PGA brand, the beauty of its stops, the ongoing drama that takes place every week, and the tour’s array of various players and their personalities to recapture the brand’s romance with its fans. And when or if Tiger Woods becomes the dominant player he once was, all the better. Just don’t count on it in building your brand.

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