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

Tiger

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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TV Ratings, Ticket Sales Surge as Fans Clamor to See Woods End 5-Year Drought

Woods

On Sunday evening, Tiger Woods ended a 5-year winless streak (’13 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) with a two-stroke victory, finishing -11 under to take home the TOUR Championship (the final leg of the FedExCup Playoffs). NBC television ratings surged (Sunday’s final round was the highest-rated telecast in FedExCup history) as Tiger chased his 80th PGA Tour win; 2 victories behind the all-time leader Sam Snead. TOUR Championship ticket sales also received the Tiger bump (+170% YoY) last weekend, as fans scrambled to the East Lake Golf Club (Atlanta) to witness “the greatest comeback story in sports history.”

Howie Long-Short: NBC posted a 5.21 overnight rating (meaning 5.21% of all households in metered markets) on Sunday (round peaked at 7.1), representing an audience increase of +206% YoY; NBC also reported the number of minutes streamed (18.4 million) rose +521% YoY. While that would be a big number for most sporting events, it’s peanuts compared to the 13.6 rating the NFL’s Sunday night game (NE at Detroit) drew. Saturday’s 3rd round performed better on a head to head basis, beating every college football game on the slate (with 3.1 overnight rating) except Texas A&M at Alabama (3.5 rating).

While Woods will move the needle for television and ticket sales, he simply doesn’t do the same for golf equipment sales. Back in June ’17, Phil Knight said that despite Woods’ enormous success and popularity, Nike “lost money for 20 years on equipment and balls.” If he didn’t move equipment (apparel is a different story) for NKE in his prime – or at least enough to offset R&D costs -, he’s not going to for TaylorMade either (his current equipment provider).

Woods won the Tour Championship playing with Bridgestone Golf’s TOUR B XS ball. He averaged 304 yards off the tee, finishing 3rd in driving accuracy and 1st in putting average. Bridgestone Golf falls under the Bridgestone Corporation umbrella, best known for their rubber & tire business (world’s largest tire maker). Bridgestone Corp. recently reported operating income for H1 ’18 declined -1.4% (to $1.8 billion) despite net sales remaining flat (to $15.6 billion), a minimal growth from the company’s tire division was more than offset by a -40% YoY decline (to $78.8 million) in OI from its Diversified Products division. The Japan based company trades over the counter under the symbol BRDCY.

Fan Marino: Tiger Woods will lead team U.S.A (against Europe) in their quest to retain the Ryder Cup. The 42nd edition of the annual event will take place at Le Golf National (outside Paris), Friday-Sunday.

The greatest comeback story in sports history? Give me a break. Sure, Tiger managed to come all the way back from cheating on his wife to beat 29 other golfers in non-major (insert eye roll here), but as Ted Berg kindly reminded us, Mario Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in the middle of the ’92-‘93 NHL season. Following 2 months of radiation, he returned to the ice (on the same day as his last treatment) and still finished with 12 points (160) ahead of 2nd place (Pat Lafontaine). I don’t know, that sounds like the better story.

Fun Fact: With the win, Woods has now cleared more than $1 billion in career earnings.

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TIGER WOODS HELPING BRIDGESTONE GOLF GENERATE RECORD SALES

Bridgestone (OTC: BRDCY) Golf CEO Angel Ilagan recently stated that Tiger Woods is more valuable as an endorser than he is as a player, arguing he’s “the single golfer who’s had the greatest impact bringing consumers into the game”. Ilagan argues that golf enthusiasts are familiar with Tiger’s reputation as a “sports science junky”, who only plays with very best equipment; while noting the game has seen an increase of 4 million players since Woods last participated (back surgeries, DUI) in a tournament (Feb ’16). The company signed Woods to an endorsement deal in December ’16, and generated record sales growth in H1 ’17.

Howie Long-Short: Bridgestone Golf falls under the Bridgestone Corporation umbrella, best known for their rubber & tire business. Bridgestone Corp. recently reported operating income for H1 ’17 was down 7.3% (to $1.8 billion), despite sales rising 5.8% (to $15.5 billion); attributing the earnings decline to rising raw material costs. As for Bridgestone Golf, it posted the 2 most successful quarters in company history and its single highest grossing month in company history, within the first 6 months of 2017. The Japan based company trades over the counter under the symbol BRDCY.

Fan Marino: Woods remains most valuable as an endorser, when he’s playing. Paid advertising has been driving awareness of the Woods/Bridgestone partnership, but nothing can replicate the exposure and impact seeing the Bridgestone “B” on a ball that Tiger is lining up to putt on 18, on Sunday.

Tiger Woods is more valuable as an endorser than a player: Bridgestone Golf CEO