Now that Tiger Woods has broken his two-year win drought earlier this month, the question is how much earning potential will that translate into in 2012? One branding strategist does not think Woods can ever reach his peak of approximately $125 million per year before the sex scandal of 2009.
“People love a personal comeback story,” said Paul Pierson, a partner at Carbone Smolan Agency in New York, “so I think he can get close to the [earnings] levels prior to his troubles but I’d be surprised if he surpassed them.”
Despite the sex scandal in November 2009 which destroyed his marriage and cost him four major sponsors, Woods still pocketed about $75 million in the 12 months to May 1, putting him No. 1 on Forbes' list of the world’s wealthiest athletes. Leg injuries kept him out of contention on the golf course itself, plummeting him out of the top 50 in the world rankings before his win at the Chevron World Challenge on Dec. 4.
There are few sports brands that have been as powerful as Woods in the last 25 years, with Michael Jordan probably being the only larger one. He was an athlete who “broke conventions,” said Pierson and became an ambassador for the game all over the globe. He singlehandedly catapulted the popularity of the sport into heights it had never experienced before.
So, despite the loss of major sponsors in PepsiCo, AT&T, Accenture and Gillette, Woods still has stalwarts Nike and Electronic Arts behind him. “Brands don’t happen overnight,” said Pierson, implying that Woods was not going to lose his commercial appeal overnight either.
A return to winning ways, including a possible victory at a major, would do wonders to restore his earning power, says Pierson. But he has to avoid any more character damage as well. “You can’t ever forget that image of his wife with that golf club in her hand. It sticks.”
Woods will turn 36 before he plays another tournament next month, so the next three to four years will be crucial for him. The challenge to prove himself among the rising 20-somethings such as Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley among others should fuel the old Tiger intensity. If he can stay healthy, there should be a lot more big paydays on and off the course in Tiger’s future.