By Duff McDonald
As Tiger Woods' troubles mount, including his mother-in-law being transported from his home to a nearby hospital Tuesday morning, retailers are slashing their prices on the golfer's merchandise, and disillusioned collectors are dumping their memorabilia.
The closest toy store to Tiger Woods' boyhood home is a Toys R Us in Huntington Beach, Calif. There's a strong chance Earl and Kultida Woods shopped for Christmas presents here when their son was young, and the store yesterday was girded again for the holiday rush, with Barbies and pottery kits stacked up front. For those on a budget, there was a clearance sale on action figures in the back: the NFL's Jay Cutler in a Broncos uniform (he's now a Bear), the NBA's Ben Gordon as a Bull (he's now a Piston), and native son Woods. Regularly $15.99, the Woods action figure had been slashed to $9.98.
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So it goes these days with the greatest brand in sports, now that he's been revealed to have had numerous sexual encounters with women while he was married. At press time, his major sponsors were behind him. Nike has Tiger's back. So, too, does Gillette. And it will be hard to tell if Tiger's travails have any effect on sales of Accenture consulting gigs in the short term. But as it's Christmas shopping season, the sales of Tiger videogames (through Electronic Arts), action figures (through Upper Deck), and memorabilia offer an immediate window into the scandal's effect.
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The news for Tiger is mostly bad, with a few hopeful rays peeking out. We sent reporters to stores around New York, Southern California, and Washington state. The best results for Tiger, clearly, were the videogames. Among 10 stores visited, none noticed a drop-off for super-profitable Tiger Woods games on either the Xbox or Wii platforms.
"It's not like he killed anybody," says one rep at a Toys R Us outside Seattle. "I sold one just the other day." ("Our strong relationship with Tiger for more than a decade remains unchanged," said Electronic Arts in a statement to The Daily Beast as bland as Tiger's reputation used to be. "We respect Tiger's privacy, we wish him a fast recovery and we look forward to seeing him back on the golf course.")
The figurines, however, were another story. It's hard, after all, to envision Dad buying Junior a toy with moveable parts depicting a man whose extra-marrital activities have landed him in such hot water.
Much less an "action figure." At the Times Square Toys R Us in Manhattan on Monday, dozens of forlorn Tiger Woods action figures, also marked down from $15.99 to $9.98, had just been relocated "a couple days ago" from their usual home on the second floor to the corner of the basement, where most items are on sale, according to an employee. He said he believed that the price had been reduced at that same time.
The Toys R Us outside Seattle had four different kinds of Tiger figurines, also discounted to $9.98, though the store manager insisted they had been on clearance before the scandal. When we asked a sales rep at a Target in Tukwila, Wash., if they carried Tiger Woods action figures, she said she'd never heard of the product, before pausing and asking a sincere question of her own: "Is that intended as a gag gift?"
We then checked the pulse of those normally excitable when it comes to Tiger collectibles. According to one authenticator of sports memorabilia, his clients are not optimistic. Joe Orlando, president of Professional Sports Authenticators, says that one of the most enthusiastic collectors of Tiger Woods cards has put his entire collection, valued at more than six figures, on the market, at come-as-you-will prices. The collector, who saw a moral, as well as an absolute, victory to Woods' career—a middle-class African American triumphing in a country-club sport, threw in the towel after revelations of Woods' extramarital affairs hit the wires. "It's been very difficult for sports memorabilia and card dealers to move Tiger products," says Orlando. "Many of them have told us they're not even going to try until the dust settles."
Where there's pessimism, however, there are always value seekers. Mike Heffner, president of Lelands.com, a prominent sports memorabilia auction house, said he thinks that Woods' sporting accomplishments will eventually overshadow his off-course travails, and that his "personal problems only make him more human and easier for a lot of us to relate to."
The price of at least one potential piece of Woods memorabilia is skyrocketing: the wedge that Elin Nordegren used to break the back window of Tiger's Cadillac Escalade. "If that came up for auction, I bet it could fetch close to $250,000," says Heffner. If true, that makes it, by far, the most valuable golf club in the world. Jack Nicklaus, eat your heart out.
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