Tiger Woods has his “first major endorsement since his downfall two years ago, announcing a deal Wednesday with Rolex to be one of its ambassadors,” according to Doug Ferguson of the AP. Woods previously had a watch deal with Tag Heuer, which “dropped him two months ago.” Terms of the Rolex deal were not disclosed, although “it is believed to be longer than five years.” Woods has lost endorsement deals with AT&T, Accenture, Tag Heuer, Gatorade and Gillette since Nov. ’09. Woods’ agent, Excel Sports Management’s Mark Steinberg, said that Rolex would be “the first of a ‘couple of announcements’ related to endorsements, including a deal for Woods' golf bag.” He said that a “bag deal was likely to be announced as early as six weeks.” Ferguson noted Woods has had his foundation logo on the bag “since AT&T dropped him a month after Woods' sex scandal unfolded in November 2009.” Woods has been “in negotiations with Fry's Electronics, sponsor of this week's tournament, although those discussions have been going on for most of the year” (AP, 10/5). Steinberg said that the Rolex logo "would not be visible as Woods plays golf." He added that Woods "had a watch in his golf bag" during yesterday's pro-am prior to the start of the PGA Tour Frys.com Open (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 10/5). YAHOO SPORTS’ Shane Bacon noted Rolex “has a handful of huge names in golf under its umbrella, including Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson.” Rolex now gets “basically every big golfer on the planet sporting its timepieces, and Tiger gets as respected a name as there is out there under his wing, which has to be good for his fleeting image” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/5).
SURPRISING FIRST STEP: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Suzanne Vranica reports some marketing experts are "surprised that Mr. Woods was able to grab such a high-profile consumer brand, especially given that he hasn't won an event in almost two years and fell out of the top 50 golfers for the first time since 1996." Chicago-based Engage Marketing Founder Kevin Adler said the deal is a "clear indicator that mainstream corporate America is coming around." Woods in June signed a deal to promote Japanese pain relief brand Vantelin Kowa (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/6). GOLFCHANNEL.com's Randall Mell wrote the Woods' Rolex deal "bodes well for his bruised brand," but if he is "going to attract more sponsors, he's going to have to start winning again." Some analysts see Woods' "nearly two-year winless streak as the greatest obstacle to rejuvenating a portfolio that has lost five major endorsement deals" since November '09. However, the Rolex deal, and "Fry's interest, loom as evidence big business is willing to bet Woods will return to the winner's circle" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 10/5). Golf Channel's Charlie Rymer said Rolex is "betting on Tiger Woods winning, and when he wins his next major and he slides that Rolex on his wrist on the 72nd hole, it’s all said and done for them” (“19th Hole,” Golf Channel, 10/5). Comcast SportsNet's Ivan Carter said, "He's one win away from being right back where he wants to be" ("Washington Post Live," Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, 10/5).
BUY LOW: ESPN's Jay Crawford noted the "first rule of business, any business, is you want to buy low," and predicted that Rolex "giot him on the cheap, compared to what he was making.” ESPN’s Jemele Hill said, "Usually advertisers seem to sign up with somebody who’s ‘hot,’ and Tiger Woods isn’t ‘hot’ right now. Now maybe they’re banking on at some point he may come back, but it was a curious decision just because of where he is with his golf right now. He hasn’t been very good, so what market cache are they getting out of this?” ("First Take," ESPN2, 10/6). Golf Channel's Jay Coffin noted Tag Heuer "was one of the ones that left him previously, so now to go with Rolex, not that big of a surprise." Coffin: "I don’t necessarily think that this is going to open the floodgates, though. It’s not like that four or five big major brands are going to come back in the next six months to a year.” Coffin cited several business analysts as saying that it is "still going to be hard for these big major corporations to write a check for five or 10 million to a guy who the best thing you can say about him is he’s trying to be as good as he used to be” ("19th Hole," Golf Channel, 10/5).
INTEREST IS OUT THERE: Steinberg said the Rolex deal is a sign that Woods' marketability is "coming back," and while he admits winning tournaments is a "pretty important component ... I've seen it change with increased interest in his marketability without his winning yet." Steinberg: "We're on a nice upswing right now. Now it's finding the right partners, the interesting deals, deals that will enhance him and his brand." He noted Woods is "not going to do a plethora of deals." Steinberg: "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" (GOLFWEEK.com, 10/5). More Steinberg: “The business end is actually quite strong. You can call me an agent, but I’m a salesman. And there are opportunities.” He added, “Our culture says to us that we like dynasties and that we also like underdogs. Tiger is as good a dynasty as there’s been in sports for, what, 13 years? And now you might say he’s an underdog. He would complete the story” (THOMASBONK.com, 10/4).
STILL WORK TO BE DONE: Golf Channel’s Gary Williams and Erik Kuselias debated Woods' marketability prior to news of the Rolex deal, and Williams said Woods' appeal is “in purgatory now.” EA Sports is holding an online contest to see which golfers will share the cover of “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13” with Woods, and Williams said, “All you had to do for years and years and years was slap his face on the cover and essentially kind of improve the graphics, make the game a little bit better, and you sold as many as you wanted to.” For the “third straight year his image, his brand, can’t stand alone” for EA Sports. Williams: “They’re going to put an American player and an international player on the box cover to be running basically stride for stride with him because he can’t do enough standing alone. That means his brand is flat.” But Kuselias said, “I still think that there is room for him to grow this brand and maybe flatten out. But a win or two could do wonders for him bouncing back. … If he next year in 2012 can come out and grab one early and build some excitement as we get ready towards Augusta, I think that could increase his marketability” (“Morning Drive,” Golf Channel, 10/4).