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Roundtable Discussion: The State of the Tiger Woods Brand

Roundtable Discussion: The State of the Tiger Woods Brand

9 minute read

  • Earlier this month, Tiger Woods participated in his first tournament in 15 months. This created an increased interest from both fans and sponsors
  • Despite his recent troubles on and off the course, Tiger Woods can still provide an endorser that will reach a wide audience securing new endorsements from Monster Energy and Bridgestone
  • For Woods to fully rebuild his brand he will need to look to build his philanthropic reputation and work to help others

The following is a transcribed discussion between MKTG's Brian Cooper, Matthew Logue, Matthew Klar and Geoff Biss on the evolution of Tiger Woods’ personal brand and what his return means for his appeal as an endorser. 


Geoff Biss

Welcome to our discussion on Tiger Woods and his past, present and future. I am joined by colleagues Matthew Logue, Matthew Klar, and Brian Cooper.

After 15 months away from the course, Tiger Woods showed glimpses of a comeback, finishing 15th and -4 at the World Hero Challenge. It goes without saying that Tiger’s impact on golf is immeasurable. He is one of the most successful golfers of all time, and despite injuries, still remains one of the highest-paid athletes in the world. In fact, between the years 2014 and 2015 Tiger made only $600,000 on the course and $50,000,000 from endorsement deals, meaning he earned roughly 83 times his golf earnings in endorsement money. So in spite of some on and off the course issues, Tiger remains a highly marketable athlete with a variety of sponsors including Nike, Rolex, and Upper Deck among others. Guys, what makes Tiger Woods so marketable? 

Matt Logue

I don’t think that he is so marketable. I know that facts say otherwise. Nike obviously started their association with Tiger years ago to launch their golf brand. Rolex is interesting, I am curious as to why that is a relationship they would still maintain. Upper Deck - I can’t imagine that one is a large contributor to his off the course earnings. I know the numbers would say that Tiger still has strong earning power as an endorser, but I don’t think Tiger is very marketable. 

Brian Cooper

Also, you are saying that Tiger is on his way back; Tiger came in 15th two weekends ago. This is 15 out of 18. It was an invite only field, to his own tournament. He is back on the course, but on a performance basis, I don’t think so. I agree with Matt, this is a brand that is severely tarnished. But, we have seen it happen with other athletes who have returned from a public image scandal. Other athletes have bounced back and usually their best friend is time. Will endemic brands always sponsor Tiger? Without a doubt, because he’s going to be doing corporate sponsored tournaments and upcoming Majors. Will the mass retail brands support him with long term contracts? I doubt it.

Matt Klar

I can’t believe we are sitting here saying Tiger Woods isn’t marketable. This is one of the most dominant, recognizable, and beloved athletes of his generation. I agree he has taken some hits and he is not where he once was, but Tiger Woods when he came up and started to dominate golf, let’s say 1999-2006- there were few athletes that could command that sort of attention. I still believe he is a tremendously powerful brand. 

Brian Cooper

There wasn’t a bigger fan than myself. What he did was so egregious and the information that came out [referencing Tiger Woods’ infidelity] was something that really kills a brand. Very difficult to come back from that.

Matt Logue

I don’t think it was completely the off-the-course incidents. I think it was the fact that he fell apart on the course. 

Brian Cooper

Wayne Gretzky has not stepped on the ice in 18 years, but still attracts mass brands for endorsements, so it’s not that his performance has died down, his performance is non-existent. Tiger’s time has come and gone on the performance side. So now it’s your brand reputation and the brand equity you built up with the mass market. I don’t see how he is going to get another mass sponsorship.

Matt Logue

I don’t think he will either; all I am saying is that I don’t think it was his personal transgressions that impact his value as an endorser. I think it is the fact that he has never been able to get his game back. 

Brian Cooper

His personal transgressions led to his lack of performance.

Matt Logue

I think the Tiger Woods brand is really going to come back full circle in a bio-pic. A movie on him is going to happen in our lifetime.

Brian Cooper

I guarantee there won’t be product placement in the movie. 

Matt Logue

It’s a celebrated story and people like human moments. Tiger has had the rise and fall and the attempted comeback. 

Brian Cooper

It is a great story and I agree with you. But I do not think he is going to attract another major brand. Geoff, you said he is making $50 million off the course?

Geoff Biss

Yes, based on projections from Forbes. And there are actually some new sponsors coming in. Earlier this month, Tiger signed a deal with Monster Energy. He just started playing with a Bridgestone golf ball. Obviously, we can all agree he is not the player he was. You see some glimpses here and there, but he has chronic back problems. He is never going to be the same player. So how would you market that brand now? His brand was a brand built on performance at one time.

Matt Klar

That is what I think the key shift is. Whether or not he attracts a mass brand that activates an endorsement deal through a performance narrative is one thing, but Tiger Woods is still a powerful brand. I think the type of story you tell as a brand associated with Tiger Woods is a little bit different than it was ten years ago. Now, brands should be talking more about his legacy and impact on the game and on how Woods was a builder of the game that inspired a lot of the current stars who are playing now. For example, we see an emerging trend now with endorsers celebrating an athlete’s legacy in their retirement year – Derek Jeter, Kobe, Abby Wambach. When Tiger retires, I think you will see an uptick in activation around him. 

Matt Logue

The best strategy for Tiger is to make him a human. He made a few errors, but those errors were not criminal – he did not break any laws. I don’t think it is that hard for Tiger to come back from the morality concerns. 

Geoff Biss

For a second, let’s take a moment and say we have a magic wand that removes all of Tiger’s past transgressions. Let’s go back before that to when he was such a powerful endorser. Which of his partnerships stand out to you? 

Brian Cooper

American Express was probably one of the biggest ones I remember. Buick also.

Matt Logue

Buick for sure.

Brian Cooper

Look I absolutely loved Tiger. I wanted him to win every single weekend. Even when he was out of it, I believed that he could make a comeback on a Sunday and make up nine strokes; which is impossible, but he has done it. The shots he could make were phenomenal and he deserved every endorsement that he had and he reached the masses. People were watching golf that were not playing golf and he did so much to attract casual fans to the sport. If Tiger was in the hunt on the weekend, they wanted to see him embrace his father. He would wear his red Sunday shirt and it was a lore, his legacy. It was Gretzky-esque

Matt Klar

Tiger presents an interesting paradox now for sponsors in that he is still equally as recognizable, but provides the opportunity for an underdog story. Nobody expects him to win. If Tiger wins on a Sunday, it will capture all of those casual fans by storm. All that hype you talked about with people gathering around the TV to watch him in his Sunday red, all it takes is Tiger in the final pairing and it will recapture that audience. 

Brian Cooper

Some product marketers won’t think underdog, they’ll just think dog. 

Matt Logue

I think Tiger Woods’ best play if he wants to rebuild his brand is to become Tiger Woods the philanthropist. Tiger Woods needs to be reborn as a person and do good for others. 

Brian Cooper

Matt’s point is correct. He is doing it with the Tiger Woods Foundation and the education program they put together. That is brand resurrection. Will this allow for a mass brand to return to him? Any major future endorsements will focus on his work with youth. He won’t simply be a spokesperson talking to the functional benefits of a product. 

Matt Logue

He doesn’t need that. If he can do good for others, have an impact, and rebuild his brand, he can recapture his legacy.

Geoff Biss

In terms of Tiger coming back, and what it means for the sport of golf, a recent CNN article stated that Tiger was recognized by 97% of Americans. Meanwhile, out of the current Top 10 players on the tour, Rory McIlroy had the highest U.S. awareness at 42%. Obviously, since Tiger has been gone, there’s been a lot of young and talented golfers who have emerged such as Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and more. But they don’t seem to resonate with the average American like Tiger Woods. Is his return good for golf? What’s the state of golf right now?

Matt Logue

Golf put a lot of pressure on Tiger in the early phase of his career. In the past, every Major championship was marketed as a Tiger Woods event. However, sports properties will attract more sustainable and scalable brands when they add credibility to an athlete; when an athlete is seen as successful because they play in that league. This is more beneficial than a league being seen as valuable because it currently employs a specific talent.

Geoff Biss

We’ll want to wrap this up shortly. Before we do, I obviously want to ask, what’s next for Tiger? Nike recently announced it was leaving the golf club business. Does this open the door for a new athletic brand or golf manufacturer to strike an endorsement deal with Woods?

Matt Klar

I don’t have a specific brand in mind. I think typically we see golf equipment manufacturers talk all about performance. For example, they will market the distance of accuracy of their clubs. As we mentioned here, Tiger’s best bet in the future is not to work on those types of stories with brands. Rather, Tiger should focus on what he does off the course moving forward and/or his legacy and impact on the game. 

Geoff Biss

I think we have covered a number of key points on the complexities of Tiger Woods’ comeback with respect to his sponsors and brand appeal. It will be interesting to see how the rest of his career pans out on and off the course. We will no doubt be keeping a close eye. Thank you all for participating!

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