Will Tiger’s Taming of Augusta Tee Up New Era for Golf?

April 15, 2019

For all the success in recent years by Dustin, Justin, Jordan and Rory, nothing generates more buzz – and a bigger bump to the sport – than when Tiger Woods is big-game hunting a major golf championship. And, this past weekend, not only was Tiger on the prowl but he claimed his prey, adding another Masters title to his long list of accolades and in the process signaling that his days atop the leaderboard are far from over.

I was at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon, watching the defending World Series Champion Red Sox play the Orioles. Meanwhile, across town the Celtics were opening their 2019 NBA Playoff series against the Indiana Pacers. However, the only buzz in the bleachers was about Tiger – people asking how he was doing, sharing scoring updates and all seeming to be pulling for him.  Then, during a break in the action, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” blared over the ballpark’s sound system followed by the PA announcement that Tiger had done the improbable. What this news elicited was more than polite, golf clap-style applause, in fact it was more accurately a loud ovation by a body of sports fans who know excellence when they see it.  And, based upon the reaction on social media, we were hardly alone.

But, what does this win really mean? For Tiger, who had been not just doubted but dismissed as he battled back from a litany of physical and personal issues; for golf, which has been looking for the star to succeed a living legend; for brands, which are involved in the sport or are considering how to tap into the aura around Tiger 2.0?

We’ll never see the same phenomena of interest, engagement and transcendence into pop culture that we did in Tiger’s first decade of dominance. However, with all due respect to the current crop of professional golf stars, the Tiger Woods of 2019 can assuredly bring a renewed relevance and brighter spotlight to the game of golf than it has enjoyed in quite some time.

Coupled with his Tour Championship title last fall, his win this past weekend eliminates any sort of element of anomaly; rather, it signals that Tiger is back. Now, every tournament he enters will be an “event” and every major he competes in will be a must-follow, not only for golf fans, but also sports fans, and a broader portion of the general public, as well. And, all of this will result in the social media buzz, clicks, views and broadcast eyeballs that all the stakeholders in the golf industry so dearly missed during his absence and have so strongly been desiring since his return to the links.

From a commercial standpoint, Tiger will certainly reascend the consideration set of brand marketers. However, befitting his long-established stature, and as hard as it is to believe about an athlete who has made more than $1 billion in gross income on and off the golf course, he has always demonstrated discretion in his partnerships and the same strategy will almost certainly guide his go-forward approach.

Interestingly, given where he is from a life stage standpoint (now 43 years old), as well as his return from an extensive list of injuries, I could see new categories of endorsements open up for him, including health and wellness, fitness and travel – all of which are areas of interest for his peer age group who may marvel even more than the average fan at his accomplishments – not to mention a partnership with a leading gum brand, following his well-noticed and much-discussed chewing throughout his final round on Sunday.

And, if he needs any sort of advice, he can no doubt speak with Tom Brady, another elite, 40-something athlete who is rewriting his sport’s record books, and took some time to celebrate greatness following Tiger’s feat this weekend.

What this all means is media and fans will be newly attuned to all things Tiger Woods, while brands and tournament organizers will double down on the business of being Tiger. Because, as history has shown, when Tiger is playing well, it pays to be playing with Tiger.

Shawn McBride, EVP of Sports for Ketchum, has almost 20 years of experience helping brands leverage their investments in sports, as well as working on behalf of global sports properties.