- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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Let's get this straight:
Negativity about Tiger Woods has been completely blown out of proportion.
Sure his scandal resulted in brands such as AT&T, Accenture and Gatorade dropping him, but think about the brands that kept him: Electronic Arts, Upper Deck and Nike. What do they have in common? They're the companies that rely on him most. If they didn't think he could sell, they wouldn't have stuck with him.
As anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I'm a big proponent of polling. But I also admit its faults. Polling, which has universally shown a decline in his popularity, has done a disservice to Tiger. Why? Because polling has to be looked at over time and can't be looked at in a vacuum.
I'll show you what I mean. Five years ago, 73 percent of avid PGA Tour fans named Tiger Woods as their favorite pro golfer, according to the ESPN Sports Poll. Last year, only 47 percent named Tiger. Among casual fans, 82 percent of casual fans named Tiger as their favorite pro golfer in 2008, but only 57 percent named him #1 in 2012.
Big slip, huh?
Not really. For one, Tiger wasn't the same Tiger on the course in that period of time, so the suggestion that people stopped liking Tiger solely because of his transgressions isn't entirely accurate. Despite the fall, he's still the most popular athlete, on a percentage basis, in any major sport. The golfer who made up the most ground from Tiger's woes was Phil Mickelson, who went from a 15 percent to a 25 percent favorite among avid fans and from 8 to 21 percent among casual fans. There's still a significant gap there.
And there's no suggestion that people who said Tiger was no longer their favorite golfer took their eyes off of him. The Tiger boost to the TV ratings, when he's in the hunt on a Sunday, never changed. And although some might say the scandal created a different dynamic -- it gave Tiger a complexity of character he never had before -- no reasonable person would suggest that the majority of people who dropped Tiger as their favorite tuned in to watch him lose.
After much controversy, Nike was forced to address its recent digital ad in which it pictured Woods with his own words "Winning Takes Care Of Everything." A vocal minority made a stink, saying the ad hinted that the multinational company was condoning infidelity.
That's a pretty big stretch. Winning alone likely won't bring Tiger and his wife back together and won't heal the wounds his behavior caused. And winning won't even bring back the people who don't like Tiger for what he did. But the harsh reality is, winning does mean a lot. It's why Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong can't ever recover because they won't be given another chance to win. And it's why, if Tiger returns to his old self and wins in 2013, those favorite numbers will rise again.