When legendary golfer Tiger Woods and Olympian skier Lindsey Vonn went public with their relationship on Monday—on Facebook, of all places—they answered a lot of questions. Yes, they really are dating. They were just friends for awhile and now they’re so much more. And yes, they are apparently the kind of couple who thinks it’s a good idea to take photos that look like awkward high school prom portraits. But they barely scratched the surface of what we actually want to know about their newly-minted relationship.
Here then are some answers to your most burning questions about…. (do we really have to say it?)…. Liger.
So two athletes are dating. Why is this a big deal?
It’s a big deal because Tiger Wood’s last relationship didn’t turn out so well. Perhaps you remember it? Back in 2009, 14 mistresses claimed they’d been sleeping with Woods, and some of them had the sexts to prove it. Since his divorce, this is Woods first public relationship. Imagine if Lance Armstrong was competing in another bike race, this time hopefully without drugs. All eyes would be on him for the same reason they’re now on Tiger: Let’s see if he can get it right this time.
Why make a public announcement at all?
“It’s how you control the story,” says Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, a clinical psychologist who’s worked with athletes like Shaquille O’Neal. “The relationship was going to get out there eventually, and there’s going to be paparazzi pictures of them at the beach, and her stomach’s going to be hanging over her bikini and it won’t be flattering. At least this way, they’ve put out the first pictures of them as a couple. They beat the media to it.” Beating the media also sends a message to their fans, says Nick Nanton, a celebrity lawyer and branding consultant. “If you can be known as someone who lets your Facebook/ Twitter/ social media followers in on inside secrets before the media, it builds a stronger line of communication with your fanbase,” he says. “In the long run, that can be very profitable.”
I thought Tiger had a sex addiction? Is she not aware of his past?
She’s well aware of it. Back in 2010, she mocked Woods’ alleged sex addiction during an interview. (“There’s something you don’t know about me,” she reportedly said. “Tiger, you’re like my idol, and I too have a sex problem. That would be freaking funny.”) It would be impossible to date somebody like Tiger Woods and not be aware of his past affairs. “He knows that she knows,” says Lombardo. “And she knows that he knows that she knows. It’s all out there.” So why does she trust him? “As a culture, we tend to paint people as either all good or all bad,” says Dr. Chris Donaghue, a Los Angeles-based sex therapist. “We got very comfortable villainizing Tiger. But life is rarely that black and white. There are many parts of ourselves, and the parts of ourselves that do something bad do not eclipse everything else.” In other words, Vonn probably got to know Woods, and realized that he’s more than just a famous golfer who made some infamous mistakes that apparently involved spanking and biting.
How will this affect their respective endorsement deals?
It’ll only help. Last summer, for the first time since 2004, Woods wasn’t the highest-earning American athlete on Sport Illustrated’s Fortune 50 ranking. He wasn’t even number two. He dropped to third place, behind Phil Mickelson and Floyd Mayweather. Woods made just $54.5 million in 2011, almost half of his $92 million earnings in 2009. It’s no surprise that he lost many endorsements because of the sex scandal, and this could prove to be the first step in winning them back. “Being in a public relationship is going to be very beneficial for him,” says Anthony Fernandez, an athlete branding expert in Orlando, Florida. “It shows he can be normal. Sponsors wants somebody they can trust, who’s reliable and isn’t going to cause a scandal that they have to do a lot of damage control for.”
As for Vonn, she made roughly $3 million last year, mostly from endorsements. “I don’t think her price tag will go up,” says Fernandez. “But she’ll definitely become more valuable to her existing sponsors. She was a name to begin with, but now that she’s dating Woods, she’s entered another league.”
They both endorse Rolex, right? Is there any chance they’ll start doing Rolex commercials together?
Only time will tell. It wouldn’t be the first time a sports power couple have teamed up to do commercials. Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf have already paved the way on that front. Can Woods and Vonn duplicate the Agassi magic? And was there magic in that formula in the first place? “I’ve never once thought anything along the lines of ‘Hmmm, Andre and Steffi look cute together, maybe I’ll buy one of those cameras Andre is shilling for,'” says Tommy Tomlinson, a staff writer for sporting website Sports on Earth. “But I guess people do, or they wouldn’t make the ads, right?”
Woods does endorsements for Nike, and Vonn does endorsements for Under Armour, who’s suing Nike for alleged trademark infringement. Isn’t that going to make things awkward at home?
Not a chance. Yes, Under Armour filed a complaint in February against Nike, trying to block the company from using the phrase “I know” in any context, which they allege is too similar to their current “I Know” advertising campaign. It isn’t the first time the two companies have gotten into legal disputes. In 2003, Nike sued Under Armour over the use of the slogan “DRI-FIT.” But none of this is something Woods or Vonn should or likely are losing any sleep over. “If my boss is suing my wife’s boss, and one of us could get fired, maybe that’s a problem,” says Tomlinson. “But both Woods and Vonn are millionaires. When you have two commas in your bank balance, you are the boss.”
In his Facebook announcement, Woods said that he and Vonn want to continue their relationship “as an ordinary couple.” Is there any conceivable way that they can be anything approaching “normal”?
It depends on what you consider normal. “Are Beyonce and Jay-Z normal?” Lombardo asks. “That’s one of the famous couples that does a good job at appearing normal, even though there’s nothing about their lives that would seem normal to us.” It’s about degrees of normal, she says. “For most people, it’s not normal to send a jet to pick up your girlfriend. But for them, that might be an expression of intimacy. Everybody’s normal is different.”
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on the Bloomberg BusinessWeek website.)