Tiger Woods is not the golf player he used to be. He’s been plagued by injury, and is a no-show even at lower profile tournaments. Even when he does play, he lacks the confidence we used to see in his younger days. Sure, the Tiger Woods brand still has some juice in it. In fact, while he’s missing the 2017 Masters, Woods has been making the media rounds to talk about his new book detailing his record-setting win at the 1997 Masters 20 years ago. It’s just another reminder of how dominant a player he was, and where he is now.
But is he still a good sponsorship prospect? After losing five endorsements between 2009 and 2011, Rolex bet big on his personal and professional turnaround. That hasn’t really happened. The past few years witnessed Tiger Woods in several ups and downs marked by back surgeries and tournament drop-outs. Each time, he draws plenty of buzz, but the big Tiger Woods comeback has yet to appear. So how did he get here? And what could that mean for a Tiger Woods/Rolex partnership?
Tiger Woods broke onto the scene in 1996. He started with a bang: a record-breaking Masters win, his first professional Major victory. He was the youngest player to ever take Augusta at only 21 years old.
That Masters win kicked off years of dominant golf play. Many sponsors lined up, including Nike, General Motors, American Express, and more. It was also the beginning of some very lucrative sponsorships with luxury watch brands.
Tudor (under the Rolex umbrella) was the first to come knocking. In 1997, Woods struck a deal to appear in ads for Tudor’s Prince chronograph models: brightly-colored watches with his name on the dial.
The exotic “Tiger” Princes are brilliantly technicolor—produced from 1999-2002, these watches are somewhat rare now. However, they don’t command the same prices in the secondhand market as their non-Tiger branded counterparts. Whether it’s because Tudor Prince Dates have a cleaner look or because they aren’t associated with Woods, we couldn’t say.
For some reason, Rolex and Tudor let Tiger Woods get away and TAG Heuer signed him to their roster. He spent much of the early 2000s pushing the Link and the Golf—the watchmaker even presented several Tiger Woods Limited Edition watches in 2003 and 2004. But that relationship soured in 2009 when Tiger’s personal issues became tabloid fodder—showing just how much bad PR really hurts a career. While other sponsors dropped him immediately, TAG Heuer quietly pulled his advertising and officially severed the partnership in 2011.
Which left the field open for Rolex to swoop in and pick Tiger back up from his humbled position. They had confidence, stating: “Tiger Woods still has a long career ahead of him, and […] has all the qualities required to continue to mark the history of golf.”
But years on, has it really worked out for them?
The End of an Era?
Certainly, Rolex doesn’t hurt for money (that we can guess), nor do they want for big-name sports partnerships. Who knows what sort of ROI it expected from Tiger Woods when they signed him over five years ago? While the details of their contract are pretty hush-hush, we’d be curious to know how long the company’s happy throwing money his way and putting his face on its advertising (pushing the Sea-Dweller) while he’s still active but not performing. Woods will always be a famous face, but have the years since 2009 dimmed his public perception for good?
At one point in time, the absence of Tiger Woods on the green might have proved a ratings disaster for the PGA. But as fresh new names like Jordan Spieth and Jason Day grow their following and Woods remains out of sight but still not retired, his star power fades.
Just look at his ambassador page on the Rolex website: “[Tiger Woods’s] career has spanned over twenty years, and his definition of success has changed. He now considers his most rewarding achievement being a father.” Surely, you can’t fault Woods for shifting his focus after the rough couple of years he’s had. And he still has plenty of competitive years ahead of him—if he’s up for it.
At this point, all we can do is speculate. Let’s hope Rolex’s investment pays off.
Image Credits: Header; Rolex Magazine. 1; Crown & Caliber.