By winning the Tour Championship this weekend, Tiger Woods accomplished more than just a remarkable comeback in a game he once dominated.
A combination of tabloid scandals and injury had dimmed Woods’ star, but marketing experts predicted that as he heads into what are likely the waning days of his career, he could once again become as beloved on Madison Avenue as he is on the fairway.
“Every indicator is that Americans love their heroes, and they occasionally fall from grace, but when they regain their competitive capacity, I think endorsements and the opportunities follow because American marketers love to be associated with winners,” said Richard Burton, the David Falk professor of sport management at Syracuse University. “I would expect marketers to come back to him.”
And that could be very lucrative for Woods, who, by some estimates, lost as much as $50 million in endorsement opportunities when companies like Gatorade, Accenture, and AT&T dropped him in the wake of a tabloid-headlining sex scandal and messy divorce nearly a decade ago. He remained affiliated with Nike’s golf apparel division, although the sneaker company stopped making the golf clubs Woods had endorsed in 2016. Woods switched to a deal with golf club maker TaylorMade last year, retaining the brand’s support even after a DUI arrest had experts speculating whether or not Woods would ever redeem his place on the course, let alone his reputation.
“It may be worth another $10 million a year in new deals and upping the deals he has,” said Bob Dorfman, creative director at Baker Street Advertising.
At 42, it’s reasonable to assume that Woods could continue to play and retain his sizable fan base for a number of years to come. “Golfers have a longer shelf life,” Dorfman said.
“For many brands, he won’t be a fit for a variety of reasons, but for other brands, he’s killing it.”
“He’s not the invincible top guy, but he still has some gas in the tank and it’s a new role for him because he’s now the underdog, he’s the aging veteran,” said Larry DeGaris, professor of marketing at the University of Indianapolis and co-founder of Sponsorship Research & Strategy. “What he can do is show flashes of it and remind everybody.”
“He also has the advantage that the golf demographic is an older demographic, which fits in with him aging,” Dorfman said.
This generational shift means that, while Woods might have ceded the role of Nike’s most famous face to Colin Kaepernick, he likely will find himself with a whole new set of endorsement options.
“It’s a demographic with a lot of disposable income that travels a lot,” Dorfman said, suggesting that Woods could find companies in sectors like vacation planning and financial services willing to sign him on as a spokesman.
“Because he’s older and theoretically wiser, I think the companies more likely to be interested in him now might be financial management, insurance, things more appropriate for a guy his age,” Burton said.
“Will he be the perfect pitchman for all the brands that he used to be? Probably not… I don’t know if anyone can unring that bell,” said Scott Kirkpatrick at Chicago Sports & Entertainment Partners. “For many brands, he won’t be a fit for a variety of reasons, but for other brands, he’s killing it.”
Woods’ draw is powerful enough that, even after sustaining multiple scandals, experts say his brand cachet will endure.
“What Tiger’s doing is great for golf,” Kirkpatrick said. “He carries the sport.”
DeGaris concurred, saying, “It really gives golf a boost because Tiger’s back in the headlines. It’s a chance for him to rebrand back to what he was,” DeGaris said.
“Everybody loves to see a comeback story,” Dorfman said. “That’s worth a lot of attention and a lot more endorsement dollars.”