Margareta Pagano: Does the brand maketh the sportsman?

Shareholders are starting to ask if the superstars they fund so lavishly are really good for business

The most shocking aspect of the Tiger Woods affair is how big brands are emerging as the arbiters of public morality. It's the world's big sports sponsors – brands such as Nike, Gillette and power drinks giant Gatorade – which are fast becoming the guardians of celebrity transgressions, not their families or even the press. Within hours of the Woods scandal breaking, the only statements that seemed to matter were those from the golfer's big-brand sponsors on whether they would still back him with the $100m or so a year they give in sponsorship.

It was only after Woods made his extraordinary apology, promising to be a better family man, that the companies involved came out with their full-hearted backing. Not so long ago it was the wronged wife or husband who would be forced to publicly announce support for an errant spouse. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the billionaire golfer was forced into his confession by the army of PR and sponsorship advisers, desperate for him to repair his squeaky-clean image as swiftly as possible.

But it's not surprising that power is switching to the big brands. As traditional forms of advertising decline, companies are under huge pressure to find new ways to sell their products. Top sporting stars such as Woods, who is both international and aspirational, have become one of the easiest ways to sell a message to the global audience. Between them, the world's biggest companies such as Adidas, Puma, Santander, Coca-Cola and even our own Royal Bank of Scotland, spent a staggering total of £15bn on sponsoring individuals and events this year. No wonder brand kings seem to care more about the image of their celebrities than whether their sportsmen are winners. That's why it's not enough for Nike to borrow Woods's body to display around the world: it's got to be seen to be clean as well. Gatorade can't be happy that its Tiger Focus is being marketed as a power drink to improve mental focus while he goes through daily counselling sessions. But for now, Woods seems to have given his sponsors what they wanted with his confession.

More pertinent, though, is whether we want big business to be these new guardians. I'm not sure we do, nor, I think, do their investors. I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover that Gillette shareholders are starting to question why the mens' grooming company is spending so much money on sportsmen who seem to have feet of clay rather than gold. What's being called the curse of Gillette started when it signed David Beckham to a sponsorship deal just days after stories emerged about his alleged affair with his personal assistant. Then, only a few weeks ago, Thierry Henry, another Gillette superstar, got in trouble for cheating in France's World Cup qualifier and was forced into a humbling mea culpa. And now Woods.

Yet good could still come from this humiliation. Big brands must think hard about throwing so much cash at spoilt sportsmen and other celebrities. Its not healthy for them. There are many more responsible ways for companies to advertise, and they should move quickly, before shareholders start swinging their golf clubs.


Forget the recent spat over bonuses at Royal Bank of Scotland. This prickly problem will be thrashed out between the Government and the RBS board over the next few weeks as RBS does not have to decide what to pay its top-earning staff until February.

Inevitably, there will be compromise as both the politicians and the investment bank need to defuse this issue.

A much bigger question faces Sir Philip Hampton, the chairman, and Stephen Hester, the chief executive. They need to decide what sort bank they are running – whether they should be building up the global banking and markets division, or running it down. For now, Hampton and Hester argue that they need to pay the bonuses to retain the staff. If they don't pay the market rate, they claim these brilliant assets with feet will jump ship to a competitor.

I'm not sure that I buy this talent argument. With no disrespect, RBS is not one of the top-draw, top-tier investment houses but a second-liner. Many of its bankers and traders are talented but if they are not paid the top street rate, I simply don't believe they will all be snapped up by a Goldman Sachs or a Morgan Stanley.

If RBS has to pay huge amounts to keep the bankers it fears will leave, the board must be brave enough to take a risk and let them walk. The priority of the board is still to fix the main part of the bank, but it looks increasingly as though the only way to do that is out of the private eye by nationalising the bank completely.

As this is political dynamite, the second-best option would be to clean out all the toxic assets from the global banking and markets division and either spin it off into a separate company or sell it to the private sector. That way, RBS can get on with its main job and avoid being caught in the crossfire between the politicians and the furious public.

Once the new bank has paid off its loans, then it can pay its bankers what it thinks they are worth.

Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Quantitative Risk Manager

Up to £80000: Saxton Leigh: My client, a large commodities broker, is looking ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments