A Decade of the Tiger Economy

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He has roared. No question about that.
 
Everything Tiger Woods has done in the decade since he turned professional ' from winning majors to wearing clothes to marrying the model to buying the yacht to setting up charities and foundations ' has been heard in nearly every corner of modern culture. His actions resonate as loudly as the growl of the proud feline for whom he is named.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has brought more money to the game by bringing in more fans.
But one of the loudest echoes has reverberated from the halls of finance. Simply put, Tiger Woods has been a money-maker of extraordinary proportions for himself and his endorsement partners. Outside of that elite circle, the return on the worlds investment of attention in Woods is not always so clear or so profitable ' some have prospered, others have not. But few can argue that his mere presence in golf, sports, and our media-driven, celebrity-obsessed world has resounded as forcefully as the roar of the Top Cat.
 
Tiger was too well-mannered to say it at the time, but when he said Hello, world just before the Greater Milwaukee Open in 1996, his next sentence could easily have been, Can anyone break a hundred? Thousand? Before he struck a shot as a working man, Woods had endorsement deals with Titleist, to endorse its golf balls, for $3 million over three years, and Nike, to wear its golf clothing, for $40 million over five years. There was some grumbling among journeyman pros about how quickly Woods had hit pay dirt, but it was lost among the oohs and aahs of the golf, sports and advertising communities.
 
If Tiger Woods were a start-up company, he would be the most-hyped stock to hit the market in years, said The Washington Post on August 31, 1996, a few days after Woods greeted the globe. And the predictions werent limited to dollars.
 
Golf has been long perceived to be a white, elitist sport, but Tiger could change that, said Bob Williams, president of Chicago-based talent agency Burns Sports Celebrity Inc. in an August 28, 1996 story in the St. Petersburg Times. I believe he will bring minorities and middle-class Americans into the game.
 
There was indeed a notion throughout the media world, and especially in the golf industry, that an immense rising tide was coming, and that all boats would float happily. But for that moment, before Tiger launched his quest to surpass his idol, Jack Nicklaus, in major championships, there was a giddy rush to put Woods economic accomplishments in perspective.
 
His $9 million in initial annual endorsements, which included the million-dollar-per-year Titleist deal, a record at the time for a rookie golfer, blew by the $3 million deal Phil Mickelson reportedly struck with Yonex when he turned pro in 1992. And the deals just kept on coming: over the years, International Management Group, the beragency founded by Cleveland lawyer Mark McCormack to handle the careers of Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, Gary Player and many others, has gotten Woods contracts with American Express, Tag Heuer, Wheaties, Electronic Arts, Warner Books, Disney, Buick, Japanese beverage maker Asahi, and others.
 
Woods economic thrust clearly transcended golf, rocketing him into the orbit tracked by precious few stars: Michael Jordan, Formula One race driver Michael Schumacher, and a small galaxy of others.
 
Tiger got into the top 10 rapidly. For the 1997-98 NBA season, Jordan was scheduled to receive salary, bonuses and endorsement income amounting to about $78 million, reported Forbes at the time; private business interests not tracked by the magazine may have pushed Jordan past $100 million, making him far and away the worlds highest-paid athlete. NBA labor troubles in 1998 cut into Jordans then-record $33 million salary, perhaps reducing his take to as little as $70 million, Forbes said in another story. But His Airness was still the 1998 sports income leader.
 
Schumacher was second with about $38 million ' and then came the new guy. By 1998, Tiger Woods was already third on Forbes highest-paid athlete list with a winnings-and-endorsements total of $26.8 million. And, Forbes said, the deals were paying off: Nikes golf-related sales were said to have doubled between the time they signed Woods and the end of 1997.
 
That now-classic Masters win in 1997 had to have helped. Clearly, Woods was delivering. And his value went up into regions no one but his agents thought possible at the time. By 1997, Titleist had renegotiated Tigers deal into a five-year, $20 million package. In 1999, Buick came on for between $10 million and $15 million over two years (and that deal has been extended; Tiger now carries a Buick golf bag). In 2000, Tiger and Nike rewrote their deal into a 10-year, $100 million dollar club, ball and apparel contract that has become the upper benchmark of golf and sports branding. Like Jordan, Woods has his own Nike sub-brand; like Jordan, he transcends his sport even within Nike, where he is seen as an ambassador of the fundamental goodness of all sports and all athletes.
 
'The guy is like Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan in that he's changed his sport in numerous ways, in terms of his ability, his effect on his peers, the economics...and much more,' said Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf. 'Michael Jordan was always thinking ahead and moving ahead. He started practicing his baseline game three years before he needed it. Tiger is like that now. Back in 2000, that was raw power and talent just overwheming people. He's a much more subtle player now.'
 
For Nike, the turning point came in May 2000, when Tiger switched to the Tour Accuracy golf ball, then Nike's top tour ball (Woods now plays a Nike One Platinum, the latest leading ball in Nike's line).
 
'It's hard to imagine, sitting there in 2000, that we would be where we are today without him,' Wood said.
 
After Tiger switched, he won the 2000 Memorial and the U.S. Open, his first, by 15 strokes. Other people had won with a solid-core ball before, Wood said, but the rush to make those balls the dominant tour model didn't start until Tiger won with them.
 
'He changed the industry,' Wood said. 'Now the industry had to respond to him.'
 
Wood points out smaller ways in which Tiger influences buying habits -- for example, mock turtlenecks. He wasn't the first to wear them, but when he did, people clamored for them so loudly that many clubs dropped their collared-shirts-only rules and allowed mocks to be worn on club grounds.
 
The competition to brand Woods ' and have him enrich a brand ' has at times boiled over into conflict. In 1999, Nike ran a popular television commercial showing Woods bouncing a ball on a wedge as only he can. He was wearing Nike clothes, of course, but golf ball leader Titleist thought the ad implied that Woods played a Nike ball instead of a Titleist (Tiger was still playing a Titleist ball at the time). Lawyers got involved, although the issue never reached a judge in any substantial way. But the corporate head-butting may have led Titleist, whose endorsement approach has always favored a group of top athletes over the identification of a dominant star, to eventually back away from its relationship with Woods. That left Camp Tiger free to align itself with Nike.
 
Titleist, whose roster of star players continues to be strong, remains the chief power in the golf ball world, even without Woods. Nikes golf ball business has grown, thanks in no small part to Woods use of its top tour model, as well as fortuitous TV shots made in endorsement heaven: remember Tigers chip-in on the 16th hole in the final round of the 2005 Masters? The ball paused on the lip of the cup, as if it were saying, Hey! Check out my Nike swoosh!
 
More recently, the company that made Tigers yacht, Privacy, got sued for unauthorized use of Woods image in advertising ' ironically, the lawsuit is based on an invasion-of-privacy claim. The suit points out the intense and enduring efforts to keep Woods image from being diluted in any way ' a signal that IMG is nurturing that image for long-term use. Tiger is here to stay. Its his jungle.
 
Beyond the raw dollars, Woods economic impact is varied and broad. The tide certainly rose, but not all boats floated ' indeed, in the equipment industry, a few sank. Still, the over-cocktails consensus among golf industry people is that Tigers advent has helped in many ways.
 
Begin with television, the grand stage on which it all plays out. It has become an axiom in golf TV now: Tiger in, ratings up; Tiger out, ratings down. The math rarely changes. Even though his recent PGA Championship win looked like a foregone conclusion by mid-round Sunday, viewers stayed. CBS got a 7.2 rating with a 16 share for the final round (thats about 7 million households and 16 percent of the people watching television at the time), up 22 percent from the 5.9/13 that Mickelsons 2005 win earned on that Sunday (Mickelson won the delayed event on Monday). The 2006 rating was the highest since 2002 for the PGA, when Tigers Sunday pursuit of one-stroke winner Rich Beem got an 8.0/17.
 
When Woods is not playing, TV feels it. Apparently feeling the effects of the recent death of his father, Earl, Tiger missed the cut at the 2006 U.S. Open. Ratings for the final day dropped 16 percent versus 2005.
 
The never-fail correlation between Tigers presence and ratings spikes has undoubtedly helped the PGA TOUR in its campaign to make the sport as popular as the National Football League by 2020. But the TOURs business model depends on players being independent contractors, not employees, so there is no way to command Woods to play more in an effort to boost ratings. Fortunately, Woods youth and his natural competitiveness give us plenty of chances to see him, so that even if we ' and TV ' cant get enough, we still get a substantial dose of The Striped One.
 
Recreational participation, for which the golf industry anticipated a so-called Tiger Effect in his first years as a pro, may not have seen the magnitude of effect it was looking for. Between 1997 and 2000, when Tigers novelty as a pro was still fresh, the total number of golfers in the United States increased from about 24 million to 26 million, according to the National Golf Foundation. There were about 28 million golfers in 2005, the NGF said.
 
But the number of core golfers ' those who play eight or more rounds per year ' dropped 11 percent between 2000 and 2005. Much of that drop came after September 11, and the core golfer population, now between 12 million and 13 million players, has yet to challenge its late-1990s levels of about 15 million.
 
The number of occasional golfers, the one-to-seven-rounds-per-year players rose from 14.5 million in 2004 to 15.5 million in 2005, about 6.7 percent. But these golfers account for only 10 percent of rounds played, says the NGF, and their economic impact is limited.
 
Many factors outside Tigers influence ' September 11 and its depressing effect of all travel, including golf travel, among them ' may account for golfs participation challenges. The same obstacles have held down rounds played, which decreased 4.5 percent in the two years after September 11. Overall, rounds remain about 4 percent below 2000 levels.
 
As go rounds, so goes equipment. Sales of golf equipment overall have been flat for about four years, says the NGF. But broken out into categories, hard-goods sales ' clubs and the like ' have improved because of innovative technology, competition, and recreational golfers desire to upgrade to the newest (and often more expensive) gear. It may well be that Woods mastery, demonstrated again and again, has fueled that desire and kept it going.
 
The good news is that junior participation is up: 5.7 percent more 5-11-year-olds play golf now than did so five years ago, and 2.3 percent of 12-17-year-olds. It would be hard not to attribute this to Tigers almost hypnotic effect on children and teenagers, which can be seen in abundance at any tournament he plays.
 
That leads us to Woods direct effect on the lives of kids, something he and his father made a priority in the early planning of his career. The Tiger Woods Foundation declares its mission to be the empower[ment of] young people to reach their highest potential by initiating and supporting community-based programs that promote the health, education and welfare of all Americas children. Time and again, Woods has put his money where his heart is. When he signed his deal with American Express, part of the payout was $1 million straight to the Foundation, without a stop in Tigers or anyone elses wallet. In February, Woods opened the first Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif., and his demeanor while he did so showed that it was one of the most important days in his life. The focus is on helping kids be what they want to be, and that can have everything or nothing to do with golf, or even sports.
 
The same thinking seems to apply to Woods. Although his father irked some people by comparing Tiger to such titans as Gandhi, it has become increasingly difficult to seriously take issue with Earls central message, pumped up by confidence as it was: Tiger will transcend golf. In many ways, he already has. Even though he is 30, even though we have had him on the grandest professional stage for a solid decade, there is still a sense that he is just beginning. Any analysis of Tigers economic effect must admit the obvious ' his effect reaches far beyond the economic.
 
Unlike his good friend Michael Jordan, whose chosen sport does not allow the longevity golf does, Woods may have 30 years or more remaining in his career as a player ' and some time after that to influence golf, sports and life in non-playing ways.
 
In my occasional opportunities to interview Woods, I have asked a number of times where he sees himself in 20 years, or further out. What does he want to do? Design courses? Run tours? Teach? Invariably, he only smiles ' not meaning to disrespect my question, but more as if to say, You aint seen nothing yet.
 
Economically, athletically, sociologically, hes probably right. Just listen for the roar.
 
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