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Is Tiger Woods Out of the Sponsorship Woods?

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

November 10, 2011

Last month, Woods announced his first major endorsement deal since his downfall two years ago, an agreement with Rolex to become one of its ambassadors along with Gary Player, Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald, Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer, Rickie Fowler, Annika Sorenstam, and other notable golfers.  Woods previously had a watch deal with Tag Heuer, which dropped him midsummer; he returns to the Rolex fold after the Swiss watchmaker had sponsored him early in his pro career.  Terms of the deal, believed to be a five-year agreement, were not disclosed.

Woods’ agent, Excel Sports Management’s Mark Steinberg, at the time said that Rolex would be “the first of a ‘couple of announcements’ related to endorsements, including a deal for Woods’ golf bag.”  Steinberg said that a “bag deal was likely to be announced as early as six weeks” – industry speculation points to a deal with electronics retailer Fry’s, which hosted Woods in its Open last month and is said to have ongoing negotiations with Steinberg about a larger deal.

Woods has had his Tiger Woods Foundation logo on his bag since AT&T dropped him in December, 2009.

While some marketing experts expressed surprise that Woods was able to land such a high-profile luxury brand as Rolex without another win under his belt, as ESPN’s Jay Crawford put it, "the first rule of business, any business, is you want to buy low," and surmised that Rolex "got him on the cheap, compared to what he was making.”  Another plus for Woods as he and Steinberg look to rebuild his portfolio: wins or no wins, as we’re seeing this week in Australia, Woods moves the dial like no other.  And when it comes to eyeballs on their products, corporate America has a notoriously short memory for bad behavior.

“We’re on a nice upswing right now,” Steinberg shared in an interview with GolfWeek magazine.  “Now it’s finding the right partners, the interesting deals, deals that will enhance him and his brand…I’m open to categories that aren’t currently occupied, meaning he’s not conflicted in that space, whether it’s cellular, whether it’s consumer electronics, whether it’s automotive…the business end is actually quite strong.”

Woods may not be out – but in some realms he’s been forced to share.  For the first time since it launched its Tiger Woods PGA Tour video game franchise – and right in line with the current contests in Australia – EA Sports is putting the image of two different golfers alongside Woods on the cover of its Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 game, one American and one international.  The sports gaming leader held an online contest to allow fans to vote on which golfers should share the cover space with Woods. 

Fan engagement has always been a key component to the success of the Tiger Woods franchise, and following the positive fan reaction to recent Madden NFL 12 and NCAA Football 12 cover vote campaigns, EA Sports decided once again to give the power to the fans.

The winners?

On October 24, EA Sports announced that Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy were selected by fans to join Woods on the video game cover in the North American and European markets, respectively.  The company reported that over 250,000 fans cast votes from more than 35 countries from October 3-23. In the final week of voting, Fowler defeated Bubba Watson by a final margin of 52% to 48% to win the American side of the bracket while McIlroy defeated Luke Donald by a final margin of 54% to 46% to win the European side.

“Appearing on the cover of Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 11 was an amazing experience and helped introduce me to a whole new fan base around the world,” McIlroy said.  “But this year holds special meaning because it was the fans who decided to put me on the cover once again.”

Cover art of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 will be released later this month; the product launches in March, 2012.  We’ll see if Woods is able to win once again by then – Down Under, or elsewhere.

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Beyond the Scoreboard
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard eBook
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.

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