Tiger's Disney Role Is Limited

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When news surfaced in April that Tiger Woods might become a pitchman for Walt Disney Co., the marketing deal was heralded as a gigantic coup for the entertainment conglomerate.

The pairing would redefine sports marketing, some industry experts predicted, in much the same way Woods transformed professional golf. But Disney's agreement with Woods is shaping up to be far more modest than published reports indicated.

Rather than serving as a spokesman for Disney's theme parks and other divisions, Woods has agreed to appear in golfing exhibitions aired on Disney-owned ABC and ESPN television networks, according to Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent.

Both Woods and Disney have declined to comment on the terms of the deal. A formal announcement is expected soon.

The ambitious agreement between Disney and Woods was scaled back by the demands of his current sponsor, Nike, according to a Disney source close to the deal.

"He does have an iron-clad deal with Nike and that was a serious problem," said the Disney source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "There was a concern that the Disney brand name would overshadow the Nike name."

Woods' deal with Nike is worth an estimated $20 million annually. Nike declined to comment.

Woods, 25, is the sports industry's No. 1 product endorser for the third straight year, beating out retired basketball great Michael Jordan, according to an annual survey by Burns Sports & Celebrities Inc., a sports marketing firm. Last year Woods drew a reported $54 million from at least a dozen companies, including Buick, American Express and Wheaties.

Drawn to Woods' huge international appeal, Disney began wooing the golf star several months ago. The move was seen as a departure for Disney, which has rarely used athletes to sell its products, except for the "I'm going to Disneyland" ads filmed at the end of major events such as the Super Bowl.

"From Disney's standpoint, Tiger is . . . everything you'd want in an athlete," said John Mascatello, senior vice president of SFX Sports, a sports marketing and entertainment company. "From Tiger's standpoint, Disney is a major brand with a global presence."

Woods has been careful to not overextend himself with corporate endorsements. He parted with his former agent in 1998 amid reports that he committed the golfer to too many business deals.

The Disney contract requires Woods to appear in a number of televised golf exhibitions, Steinberg said. He declined to elaborate.

Though not as far reaching as Disney may have hoped, such appearances on made-for-TV golf events would be a ratings boon for ABC and ESPN.

"It's still a very smart move for Disney," said Stephen Greyser, professor of consumer marketing for the Harvard Business School.

Woods has already signed a separate deal to appear in an ABC prime-time event July 30 called "Battle at Bighorn," a team exhibition in Palm Springs featuring David Duval and Ladies Professional Golf Assn. stars Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb. Woods has appeared in similar events the last two years.

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Times staff writer Greg Johnson contributed to this report.

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