Keeping up appearances

Written by Dilip Bobb | Updated: Feb 9 2014, 07:23am hrs
Hero Motorcorps MD and CEO Pawan Munjal pulled off a major coup by getting sporting legend Tiger Woods to make his first visit to India, and playing almost an entire round of golf with him at the Delhi Golf Club (DGC). For a golfer, playing one-on-one with Tiger Woods is the equivalent of having an intimate dinner with Angelina Jolie or playing tennis with Roger Federer. In fact, Woods and Federer are known to charge huge amounts for making an appearance at events, while Jolie will do the same if you contribute large sums to her favourite charity. If most reports are to be believed, Woods charges appearance money in the region of $2.5-3 million, which suggests that Munjal would have coughed up between Rs 10 and

Rs 15 crore (not to mention the private jet that brought Woods from Dubai and back

to Florida) just for the honour of playing a round of golf.

Theres two sides to the debate about appearance money. One side says for someone who is passionate about golf, as Munjal is, to play with the best golfer in the world in front of your home crowd is priceless. There is also the side benefit of a major boost to the sport in India and inspiring kids to take up golf. There is, of course, the other side: that appearance money to top sportsmen generally outstrips the prize money on offer for other players, and since its restricted to a chosen few, it dilutes professional sport and negates a level-playing field. The Professional Golf Association (PGA) of America forbids appearance fees in its tournaments. So Woods skipped a PGA event in America in January and played in the United Arab Emirates, where he reportedly received appearance money close to $2.7 million, the equivalent of the total purse on offer at the event.

In Abu Dhabi, the appearance fees to attract top players were estimated to be $5 million, twice as much as the tournament purse. Not surprisingly, 11 of the worlds top 25 players opted for the Emirates. Its a situation that leaves PGA tournament directors and sponsors infuriated. Sports is now as commercial as any other enterprise, and for most events these days, to attract big names adds prestige and guarantees a crowd. Woods, of course, is in a class by himself. A week earlier, he showed up at the Turkish Airlines Open, hardly a tournament that the worlds best player would be expected to play in. A spokesmen for the event stated: We almost based the date around which week he could play. The other 77 names in the field will not be familiar to Turkish fans, but Tiger Woods is. There are a handful of golfers who charge appearance money, but the ones who come closest to Woods are tennis players like Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, who charge between $1 million and $2 million to show up at events. These are all sportsmen who also make big money in sponsorships, from the clothes they wear to the equipment they use and the watches they sport. What works in their favour is that television ratings and ticket money get a big boost if their names are on the event billboard.

The only individual sportsman who comes close to Woods in terms of audience draw and appearance money is Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. Outside the Olympics, Bolt shows up for an average of ten sporting events, equivalent to the Grand Slam tourneys in tennis, but allegedly makes $10 million a year in appearance money. Shortly after he won the last of his three gold medals at the London Olympics, Bolt was asked why he doesnt visit the UK more often. Bolt replied: As soon as the law changes, Ill be here all the time. He was referring to the fact that the UK charges a 50% tax on appearance fees and prize money of sportspersons when they compete in the country. Revenue and Customs also demand a cut of an individuals money from sponsors. For someone like

Bolt, who earns an

average of 100,000 per event and has multiple sponsors, the tax bill would be disproportionately high. Last year, Spanish tennis star Nadal refused to play at the pre-Wimbledon Queens tournament for similar reasons.

The fact is the business of sport is increasingly competitive with regard to sponsorship dollars and ticket sales. Though most tours are structured to require their top names to compete in the biggest events, mid-size tournaments are so desperate for big-name stars that they are willing to pay anything to guarantee their attendance. The problem is the market. By setting his price at $3 million, Woods is escalating the rates for everyone in the game who is ranked in the top ten. Players like Phil Mickelson or Rory McIlroy can now charge $1.5 million. The other problem is that there are enough emerging tournaments in emerging economiesChina, India, Turkey, the Middle Eastwhich are willing to pay top dollar to attract the best players in the world. Critics of

the appearance money system say

if Woods sets his price at a more reasonable level, the rest would be forced to lower their rates as well.

After all, they say, this is sport

and not people curing cancer or solving the crisis in Syria.

The writer is Group Editor, Special Projects & Features,

The Indian Express