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Disney May Add a Tiger to Its Marketing Menagerie

April 12, 2001|MEG JAMES and GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Looks like Tiger Woods is going to Disneyland. And it's for more than just a vacation.

Walt Disney Co. is wooing Woods--who won his fourth straight major golf championship Sunday--to become a spokesman for the company Mickey Mouse built.

Disney officials on Wednesday declined to discuss a report in the Wall Street Journal today that said the company has closed a deal with the 25-year-old golfing legend.

Wood's agent, Mark Steinberg of International Management Group in Cleveland, also declined to comment.

But industry experts said a Disney deal would reshape sports marketing in much the same way that Woods, who earned $54 million last year from tournaments and sponsorships, has transformed professional golf.

For Disney, Woods could help carry the venerable brand beyond its faithful corps of mothers, preschoolers and young girls.

"Who is hotter, trendier or more dominant than Tiger Woods?" asked Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports & Celebrities Inc. in Chicago. "And if you look at Disney's stock and what's happened recently, things have not gone swimmingly for Disney. They're looking for a change and a new direction."

Signing Woods would be a departure for the Burbank-based company. Except for ads featuring championship athletes boasting, "I'm Going to Disneyland!" after winning the World Series and Super Bowl games, Disney rarely has used athletes to sell its products.

Dean Bonham, a Denver-based sports marketing consultant, said, "You look at the incredible marketing might of Disney and the visibility and the popularity of Tiger Woods--both nationally and internationally--and it's a marriage made in sports marketing heaven."

Terms of the pending deal were not available. Disney officials would not say when they planned to announce the deal.

The deal potentially presents conflicts for Woods. Disney owns the ESPN cable network and the ABC broadcast network, which trails CBS and NBC in golf tournament coverage, Williams said.

"He's not going to open up that can of worms, and I don't think ESPN will either," Williams said, adding that Woods might not want to be seen promoting ESPN or ABC over the other networks.

Until now, Michael Jordan, who is rumored to be returning to NBA action, has set the bar for celebrity endorsement deals through a long-running marketing relationship with Nike Inc. Jordan earned $45 million in his best years.

Woods' endorsement power is growing. He has a five-year contract with Nike worth $20 million and wears a Nike hat and clothing while on the greens. He also has sponsorship deals with Buick, American Express and Rolex.

Disney's wide array and locations of properties--including the broadcast and cable networks, movies and theme parks in Paris, Tokyo, Orlando, Fla., and Anaheim--would give Woods an immense international stage.

"What Disney gets is instant recognition well beyond the people who follow sports," said Stephen Greyser, a Harvard University professor specializing in sports marketing. "Tiger Woods is more than a sports celebrity; he's now a generic celebrity much like a movie star or an astronaut."

Woods' incredible popularity with different age groups and ethnic groups, both in the U.S. and internationally, fits within Disney's global marketing plans.

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