In the summer 2016, Tiger Woods’ decline was not only a talking point among fans, but within golf business as well. Nike Golf decided it had enough. The brand halted production of golf clubs, balls and bags, products it started during Woods’ reign.
“All of a sudden there were 25 free agents in the marketplace,” remembers David Abeles, CEO, TaylorMade. “One of those happened to be Tiger.”
According to Abeles, TaylorMade inked deals with 22 of those 25 free agents. In January 2017, TaylorMade announced an equipment deal with Woods, becoming his provider for drivers, fairway woods, irons and wedges.
Two years later, that investment looks like a genius move. Woods won last week’s Masters with 13 of his 14 clubs crafted by TaylorMade (Woods uses a Scotty Cameron putter). “The Tiger Effect” has been revived, as Woods is not only a top golfer on paper but also the sport’s crown jewel of marketability.
TaylorMade is rolling with that. Within 24 hours of Woods claiming his fifth green jacket, the brand decorated its Carlsbad HQ in a photo of Woods on No. 18 at Augusta.
— TaylorMade Golf (@TaylorMadeGolf) April 15, 2019
“We wanted to celebrate the victory on behalf of his greatness and certainly our affiliation with him.” Abeles says. “Behind that, it was all the products that he played with, particularly his drivers and his fairway woods, M5s, those products aren’t just for Tiger Woods. Those products were designed candidly with Tiger, but really for every golfer at every skill level around the world.”
In another stroke of good timing, TaylorMade unveiled a new line of P-7TW irons last week, to go on sale May 1. Abeles admits the forged-blade irons, which were designed by Woods, are more suited for the “better player,” but says it is “one of the most beautiful golf clubs you’ll ever look at.”
While TaylorMade is selling equipment, the PGA Tour has Woods as its own marketing chip. Woods’ Masters win was his 15th major title and his 81st PGA Tour victory. That leaves him one behind Sam Snead’s record 82 PGA Tour titles.
Within minutes of Woods’ win, the PGA Tour starting rolling out “Chasing 82” content, which it began creating since his 80th victory at last year’s Tour Championship. On PGATour.com, a “Chasing 82” page includes summaries of Woods’ first 80 wins (No. 81 still needs its entry), which Laura Neal, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president, communications, calls “basically a treasure trove for Tiger Woods fans.” The Tour also bought an ad space for Woods in USA Today for the following day.
163 combined ???? for @TigerWoods and Sam Snead.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 15, 2019
The Tiger machine will market much of itself. Sunday’s live Masters coverage averaged 10.8 million viewers, the most for a morning golf broadcast in 32 years. Over 1 billion minutes of Masters coverage was streamed over the four days, according to CBS Sports.
That provides a runway for the PGA Tour to market its other stars, or as Neal notes, the generation Woods created.
“If you have a passion point or interest and a player shares that back, how do we match you up with that?” Neal says. “If you’re into BMX racing, Rickie Fowler is, too. From a charity perspective, if you’re interested in Special Olympics, it’s knowing Jordan Spieth has a sister who has special needs and he’s super involved with Special Olympics. What is that runway to becoming a PGA Tour fan? And it’s not just 30 or 40-year-old guys in khakis and white golf shirts. There’s so much for color and dimension out there from top to bottom. You can find a reason to have a favorite player. It’s not just Tiger.”
TaylorMade and PGA Tour were accompanied by other Woods partners with assets ready for his victory. Monster Energy, Bridgestone and Upper Deck were among those boasting about their relationships with Woods. Of course, his old pal Nike, which still provides his apparel and footwear, also remained at the forefront.
— Nike (@Nike) April 14, 2019
“Tiger is an incredible athlete and we are proud to have such a longstanding partnership with him. His ability to overcome obstacles in the pursuit of his crazy dream is a lesson that transcends sports and inspires us all,” Nike told FOS in a statement.
Nike was one of the few sponsors that stood by Woods in the wake of his infidelity scandal revealed in 2009. Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade, General Motors and Gillette were all among those that terminated or suspended endorsement deals with Woods around that time.
For a time, Woods was untouchable. Years of injuries and poor play only made that slide more precipitous. Now, advertisers are crafting a redemption story.
“We believe in him and one of the most beautiful things about TaylorMade is we believe in people and we recognize that life deals all of us different scenarios, but we never give up on people,” Abeles says, going back to the company’s 2017 decision to partner with Woods. “Having an opportunity to meet Tiger and become personally close with Tiger, I think what he’s done as a person and what he’s done is the golfer is incredibly admirable. And so, when we had an opportunity to get to know him and think about what’s important to him and what was important to us, it was very clear to us that it’d be a wonderful fit for both of us.”
Woods will never be able to sweep his infidelities under the rug. His value is unlikely to return to where it once was, either, back when he was shaving with Roger Federer, producing his own line of Gatorade and inspiring the world to wear red Nike shirts and black hats on Sundays.
Yet as the Tour and his current sponsors have demonstrated, he has returned to the mountain of the sports marketability. America loves a comeback story. Just ask Alex Rodriguez and Mike Tyson.
Woods is 43 years old and science says this second wave of “The Tiger Effect” won’t last as long as the first. But for the time being, the roar is back. And in golf, that is going to drive a lot of business.