If Tiger Woods were hooked on Twitter like Shaq, he would have gotten thumb blisters posting updates during his whirlwind New York City visit last Thursday:
Alas, those are tweets we can only imagine. The world's most famous athlete hasn't jumped into social-networking yet. "We're starting to get involved in it," he told me. We? "I'm not personally doing it yet," he conceded. For now, the Woods camp maintains a Facebook fan page (700,000-plus fans and counting), featuring a handful of family photos.
Sports Marketing is much more complicated for pro athletes today than for those in previous generations, who had few endorsement opportunities and fewer media outlets covering their every move. The conversation reminded me of our recent cover on Shaun White, another mega-star athlete who also balances the demands of his brand-building and his sport with aplomb.
Woods' model has long been M.J. "Everyone looks at Michael Jordan, because he broke the mold. He was able to get into Fortune 500 brands and represent them with the excellence he had on and off the court," Woods said. "Now the difference is, there are different ways for an athletes to get out there and create a brand. There are so many more outlets. That's definitely changed, even in the last few years with the advent of Facebook and now Twitter. You have to figure out what you feel comfortable doing without going beyond your core values. That's the most important thing. You have to understand where you come from and who you are. There are so many things to do now and it's only going to get worse."
I got 15 minutes with Woods. While that's obviously not enough time to get to know who he is, I got a glimpse of his unwavering focus. We were sitting in black leather chairs, almost knee to knee, smack in the middle of the lobby in Niketown. A half dozen dark-suited beefy bodyguards formed a half circle between us and the gawking fans who couldn't believe their luck to encounter Woods upon entering the store (this was an unpublicized stop). They called friends on their phones. They snapped pictures. They lined the floors overlooking the open-air lobby. "This is going to be a mob," one of the bodyguards had warned about Woods' short path from the store to the black SUV parked outside the store.
Despite the frenzy, Woods rarely broke eye contact with me. He leaned forward on his knees—and listened. And thought about the questions. I've interviewed enough celebs and athletes over the years, including Jordan, to know how rare this level of attention is. It's part of Woods' charisma and a key to his success. He honed that ability to focus on the golf course, where the crowds surrounding him are the often genteel sport's version of a mosh pit.
In his trademark black Nike cap and red golf shirt, I couldn't help but picture Woods crouched over a putt on the 18th green in Augusta or St. Andrews or you name it. How he curves his hands around the frowning bill of his cap, slows down, and blocks...everything...out. Now I know how that ball feels.
Coming next week: Tiger, the gamer and critic.