Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE) was just about the only sponsor to stay with Tiger Woods after his career meltdown in late 2009. He has proved that the sponsors who left him should want to come back. Woods already has won four PGA events this year. Despite his lack of a win in a major, which stretches back five years and 18 major championships, there are still two majors to go this year, including the British Open. If he wins either, his status will move from that of being the most visible player in golf to that of the only player who matters — again. Sponsors will rush back to form partnerships with him, regardless of his history of wild indiscretions. The chance for companies to make money heals all wounds.
Woods already has a watch sponsor, as do many major athletes. Rolex, which has Arnold Palmer as its most visible face, wisely got on the Woods bandwagon last year before he reeled off a string of seven quick victories. A look around at other prominent tour players shows that car companies, hotels, financial firms, sports drink makers, tech companies and soft drink makers all spend millions or tens of millions on golf. Other than Nike, Rolex and EA Sports, the biggest sponsors have avoided Woods for years. That will end soon, particularly if Woods wins another major in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s all-time leading 18 victories.
What are endorsements worth to Woods? Buick’s nine-year sponsorship was worth $7 million a year. Rumors are that his deal with consulting firm Accenture (NYSE: ACN) was worth much more than that, as were his arrangements with Procter & Gamble’s (NYSE: PG) Gillette and AT&T (NYSE: T). All together, at the peak, Woods was making, by most estimates, more than $100 million a year from these deals.
Forbes estimates that Woods made $78.1 million last year. However, that figure includes prize money and appearance fees. One more major, and a few more PGA victories, and Woods will be back above the $100 million a year sponsorship level, in addition to what he makes on the course. No matter how many cars he crashed, or how many women spent time with him, he has returned as the world’s most valuable sports billboard.