Woods' Return to Prominence Generates Interest, Won’t Change Golf’s Fortunes


Tiger Woods’ improbable victory at The Masters Tournament served as a reminder that no active athlete is capable of captivating sports fans across the nation like he can. His ability to attract the casual fan is uncanny and the outsized media coverage he commands when in contention lifts the sport's profile. Woods playing well drives viewership - and value for his sponsors - but not even Tiger trying to chase down Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major wins can change golf’s trajectory. NPD Group analyst Matt Powell explained to Footwear News that “there are a lot of systematic headwinds for golf that are just not going away - in particular: millennials are not picking up the game as quickly as Boomers are aging out of it; and the game needs young people to be playing to reverse its fortunes.”

Howie Long-Short: Woods’ Thanksgiving ’09 run-in with a fire hydrant (+ the messy divorce scandal that followed) and a series of crippling injuries resulted in most of the golfer’s major sponsors dropping him (or deciding not to renew their agreements) over the last decade (see: Accenture, AT&T, Buick, Gillette, TAG Heuer), but the brands that stuck by the now 15x major winner were rewarded on Sunday. The sponsorship analytics research firm Apex Marketing estimated that Woods was responsible for $23.6 million worth of exposure (during just the LIVE broadcast) for Nike, Monster Energy and Bridgestone during Sunday’s final round - a figure that would have been higher had bad weather not pushed the event out of prime time. Ratings were flat YoY - despite Woods' being in contention - because of the move.

No brand spent more time on-camera on Sunday than Nike did. Phil Knight's company no longer makes golf equipment - not even Tiger in his prime could make the sport profitable for them - but Woods continues to endorse their golf apparel and the attention paid to his signature red mock neck golf polo (with a swoosh) brought the company $22.54 million worth of exposure; for comparison purposes, the Nike threads Patrick Reed wore when he won last year’s tournament generated just $12 million worth of exposure. Tiger played Augusta with Bridgestone balls. His caddy carried his sticks in a bag with the Monster Energy logo embroidered on it. The Japanese manufacturer - relatively unknown to the U.S. golfer - received $134,000 worth of exposure from close-up shots of Woods’ ball, while the placement on his bag earned Monster Energy $960,000 worth.

Woods’ win won’t have a material impact on the 3 businesses referenced, but there’s a school of thought that his return to prominence will spur the sport’s resurgence; both Callaway Golf (ELY, +1.45%) and Acushnet Holdings (Titleist, GOLF, +1.65%) shares rose on Monday. I’m not betting on it and neither is Powell, who explained that “the values of the game just aren’t [akin] to the way millennials do sport: The rules are complicated. It takes a long time to play. It’s not inclusive. It’s not diverse. Representation of minorities is low. Golf courses smell like a chemical factory to keep them green [and millennials are environmentally conscious]." Greens fees are also costly and many millennials lack the discretionary income to pick up the game.

If there is a business that’s going to see a boost from Woods winning his 5th green jacket, it’s going to be TaylorMade. While Tiger been using TaylorMade clubs since 2017, the company just began selling sets of his custom irons (model: P-7TW Milled Grind irons) earlier this month. Bloomberg reported on Monday that they had already seen a “boost in interest” from Sunday’s win. Adidas sold TaylorMade to KPS Capital Partners back in 2016.

Fan Marino: Ron Torossian (CEO of 5WPR) told CBS that despite Woods’ resurgence “in the #metoo era, it will be difficult for [him] to come back as the mega-endorser he once was (he earned $105 million in endorsements in ’09, earned just $42 million in endorsements in ‘18). I don’t think many Fortune 500 companies will come back to work with him.” Ron’s point is valid, brands are certainly less tolerant for abhorrent behavior, but he’s kidding himself if he doesn’t think companies will be falling all over themselves for the chance to work with Tiger. Infidelity didn’t make Tiger radioactive, his inability to win a major over the last decade did; if Tiger is “back” on the course, the sponsors won’t be far behind.

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