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The End of an Era: Tiger Woods’ Departure from Nike

tiger nike era featured

The partnership between Tiger Woods and Nike is one of the most iconic and successful athlete-sponsor relationships in sports history. When Nike signed the then-21-year-old Woods to an endorsement deal in 1996, it began a collaboration that would profoundly impact both parties over the next 27 years.

tiger woods lining up a putt

Nike was establishing itself in the golf market when it took a chance on the young, up-and-coming Woods. Meanwhile, Woods was poised for greatness but needed more major corporate backing early in his career. Together, they shaped the future of golf marketing and equipment, spearheading innovations in gear and apparel while building two of the most recognizable brands in sports.

At its peak, the partnership reportedly earned Nike over $100 million annually in golf ball sales alone, and Woods himself amassed around $500 million in earnings. From “Hello World” to Sunday reds to “I am Tiger Woods,” or the chip at Augusta’s 16th, where the Nike logo hung up on the hole for what seemed like an eternity, there were many iconic moments.

In this post, we’ll discuss the history of the partnership, how it came about, some of the highlights and controversies, the end of the relationship, and where Tiger goes from here. As always, we’ll link you to some further reading and some videos of memorable moments from the Tiger Woods / Nike partnership.

For additional context on Tiger, see our other posts on his short game, legacy, and the “Tiger Slam.” To keep up to date with our posts, sign up for our mailing list. We’ll send you a weekly digest of our posts, as well as promos and discount codes from our partners.

Nike’s History

nike oregon

Nike traces its beginnings to the University of Oregon. Co-founder Bill Bowerman was the track coach of the Oregon Ducks program and trained middle-distance runner Phil Knight on the team. After Knight’s graduation in 1959, the two collaborated to develop a new type of running shoe, with Bowerman fashioning a waffle iron rubber sole and Knight handling business operations.

Knight began selling shoes out of his car at Oregon track meets. Their early company, “Blue Ribbon Sports,” later evolved into Nike in 1971. Over the decades, Knight and Nike have maintained close ties with the University of Oregon, contributing substantially to facilities and programs. This includes extensive support for the renovation of Hayward Field, home of the Ducks track team, and Autzen Stadium, where Oregon plays football.

Partnerships and Endorsements

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A key part of Nike’s strategy has been partnering with elite superstar athletes. In 1984, Nike signed basketball phenomenon Michael Jordan to endorse their new Air Jordan shoe line. This tremendously boosted the sales and visibility of Nike products. In 1996, Nike signed a sponsorship deal with golf icon Tiger Woods, who “took the baton” from Jordan. The deal was massively successful for both parties and lasted 27 years, ending in January 2024. The collaboration with Woods included the development of signature golf gear and saw Nike standing by Woods during his personal and professional challenges, reflecting the depth of their partnership.

These associations with Jordan, Woods, and other sports heroes solidified Nike’s image as a preeminent sports brand associated with excellence and victory. The company has leveraged these partnerships along with close University of Oregon ties to become the largest athletic footwear and apparel company in the world today.

Nike’s strategy of aligning with top athletes has proven to be a cornerstone of its brand identity, influencing product innovation and marketing campaigns that resonate with consumers globally. Through these relationships, Nike has promoted its products and the athletes’ stories and personalities, creating a powerful emotional connection with its audience.

Tiger’s Rise

tigers rise

Tiger Woods, born Eldrick Tont Woods on December 30, 1975, showed an interest in golf from a very young age. His father, Earl Woods, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, introduced him to the sport when he was just six months old. By the age of two, Tiger was already showcasing his skills on television shows, and by the age of three, he shot a 48 over nine holes. His talent was recognized early on, and he was featured in Golf Digest at five.

Tiger’s golfing prowess continued to grow as he got older. At the age of 15, he became the youngest winner of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. He went on to study at Stanford University, where he won several amateur U.S. golf titles. His amateur career culminated in 1996 when he won the NCAA Individual Title, after which he turned professional at 20.

In 1996, the same year he turned professional, Tiger Woods signed a five-year, $40 million contract with Nike. This began a long and lucrative partnership that would last nearly three decades. Nike was new to the golf business then, and they built their golf division around Woods. As Woods’ success on the course grew, so did Nike’s golf revenue. The partnership between Woods and Nike was one of the longest-running and most lucrative athlete partnerships in the history of sports.

Endoresement Deal

tiger nike promo

The initial five-year contract was worth $40 million, an unprecedented amount for a golfer. This deal was the richest endorsement deal for a professional athlete in history. New to the golf business, Nike built its golf division around Woods, and his success on the course led to a significant increase in Nike’s golf revenue. The partnership included 15 major championship victories and 82 PGA Tour wins, making it one of professional sports’ most iconic brand relationships.

Over the years, Woods and Nike renewed their contract multiple times. In 2001, Woods signed a second five-year deal worth roughly $100 million. He later signed an eight-year deal with the company for up to $40 million annually before inking a 10-year extension in 2013 that was reportedly worth about $200 million.

The partnership was not only lucrative but also had a significant impact on Nike’s sales. For instance, Woods’ endorsement boosted Nike’s golf ball sales by 9.9 million dozen and added $103 million in revenue. Moreover, approximately 57% of Nike’s investment in Woods’ $181 million endorsement deal was recovered in U.S. golf ball sales alone.

Highlights

The deal marked Nike’s significant entry into the golf equipment business, extending its reach beyond just apparel. With his iconic red Nike polos, Woods quickly became the face of golf and played a pivotal role in driving massive growth for Nike Golf. Several key campaigns and moments defined this partnership. One of the most iconic was a Nike commercial in 1999, which showed Woods juggling a golf ball for exactly 28 seconds before hitting it, a feat achieved in just four takes. In 2009, when Woods was embroiled in an infidelity scandal, and several sponsors severed ties with him, Nike stood by him, further solidifying their relationship. The partnership also saw the launch of the TW apparel line, co-branded with Nike’s swoosh logo.

The economic impact of Woods’ endorsement was significant. His association with Nike led to a price premium of roughly 2.5%, and approximately 57% of Nike’s investment in Woods’ $181 million endorsement was recouped. Moreover, Woods’ endorsement boosted Nike’s golf ball sales by 9.9 million dozen, adding $103 million in revenue.

The economic impact of Woods’ endorsement was significant. His association with Nike led to a price premium of roughly 2.5%, and approximately 57% of Nike’s investment in Woods’ $181 million endorsement was recouped. Moreover, Woods’ endorsement boosted Nike’s golf ball sales by 9.9 million dozen, adding $103 million in revenue.

However, the partnership was not without its challenges. In 2016, Nike closed its golf equipment line, forcing Woods to switch to TaylorMade clubs and Bridgestone balls. Despite this, Woods’ influence on the brand remained strong. When Woods wore FootJoy shoes at the 2023 Masters, he gave the brand $3.2 million of exposure, demonstrating his enduring market influence.

Woods Juggling Commercial – 1999

Controversies

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Throughout the 27-year partnership, neither side was immune to controversy. Nike has faced criticism over sweatshops, worker treatment, and sustainability claims. In the 1990s, there was a major backlash over poor working conditions and low wages in Nike’s overseas factories.

More recently, Nike was hit with a lawsuit in 2023 alleging the company made misleading environmental claims about its products, amounting to “greenwashing.” There have also been allegations of harassment, discrimination, and a “toxic” workplace culture at Nike.

Tiger’s off-course scandals and injuries have been well documented. Throughout Tiger’s troubles, Nike stuck by him, whereas other sponsors distanced themselves and terminated their relationship. Nike cited their long partnership and Woods’ importance in building their golf business. Similarly, Nike has weathered its own controversies, like sweatshops and workplace culture issues, while remaining dominant in sportswear.

End of Relationship

tiger woods butch harmon freeze drill

On January 8, 2024, Woods announced that his decades-long partnership with Nike had ended. The announcement came after months of speculation that the two would part ways. Despite the end of this iconic partnership, Woods’ influence on the sport and his contribution to Nike’s brand remains undeniable. He gave no word on plans for a future endorsement deal, but stated on social media, “There will certainly be another chapter.”

Neither party explicitly stated the reasons for the split, leading to speculation. Rumors about the impending separation had been circulating several months before the official announcement.

Some speculate that the two parties could not reach a mutually beneficial agreement as Woods’ contract with Nike was due to expire that year. Nike is planning on exiting the golf sector altogether, as evidenced by other prominent endorsers, like Jason Day, leaving the brand.

What’s Next For Tiger

tiger woods augusta 2001

When Tiger was set to make his 2024 debut in Los Angeles, speculation about which logo he would be sporting was rampant. For many, seeing Tiger without the trademark Swoosh would be surreal. Woods hinted at a new chapter in his career, sparking speculation about his future endorsement deals.

Since Nike exited the golf equipment business in 2016, Woods has used TaylorMade golf clubs and Bridgestone golf balls. This led to conjecture that Woods might sign endorsement deals with these or other brands, which was true.

After the split, Woods revealed he is working with TaylorMade Golf to launch a new lifestyle brand called Sun Day Red. This brand features premium apparel and footwear and leverages Woods’ expertise to develop performance products. The Sun Day Red logo incorporates his 15 major championship wins. He also has an endorsement deal to play Bridgestone golf balls.

The red polo shirt and black pants have become an indelible part of Woods’ visual identity, transcending the sport. As Woods embarks on this new chapter, his signature Sunday red attire will remain a central part of his legacy.

Further Reading – Books & Audiobooks

Tiger Woods
by Jeff Benedict & Armen Keteyian

Summary: “Tiger Woods” provides a comprehensive look at the life of one of the most famous athletes in the world, Tiger Woods. The book explores his rise to fame, personal struggles, and the carefully crafted illusion of his perfect life that unraveled after a Thanksgiving night car crash exposed his serial infidelity. The biography delves into Woods’ early life, his relationship with his parents, his meteoric rise in the world of golf, and the impact of his scandals on his career and public image. It also examines his efforts to rebuild his life and career after hitting rock bottom, offering insights into his determination, resilience, and enduring talent as a golfer.

The Tiger Woods Way
by John Andrisani

Summary: The Tiger Woods Way by John Andrisani analyzes Tiger Woods’ powerful golf swing technique in order to help amateur golfers improve their games. The book explains Tiger’s unique setup position, shows how to increase resistance between upper and lower body for more power, outlines his ideal impact position, and reveals his iron swing fundamentals. Andrisani offers detailed, step-by-step instructions on emulating Tiger’s mechanics through practice drills and swing analysis. While lacking in diagrams and photos, The Tiger Woods Way provides useful insight into Tiger Woods’ revolutionary swing.

Roaring Back: The Fall and Rise of Tiger Woods
by Curt Sampson

Summary: Curt Sampson’s “Roaring Back” chronicles Tiger Woods’s dramatic comeback and victory at the 2019 Masters tournament, detailing his fall from grace through scandal and injury as context for his against-the-odds return to glory. Structured in three acts, the book provides insights into Woods’s unyielding determination and meticulous preparation while examining his complex persona through interviews with coaches, peers, and golf journalists.  Sampson argues that Woods’s 2019 Masters win, after years of personal and physical setbacks, represents one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.  With exclusive interviews and reporting, “Roaring Back” captures a pivotal moment in the career of one of golf’s most legendary figures.

How I Play Golf
by Tiger Woods

Summary: In his instructional book, Woods reveals the physical, mental, and emotional techniques behind his golf mastery, from proper grip and swing mechanics to training regimen and focus.  Blending golf strategy with philosophical insights, Woods aims to help readers improve their game by adopting his meticulous, disciplined approach to practice and competition. While few can match his skill, Woods believes anyone can benefit from his strategic insights and methods for mental toughness, making “How I Play Golf” an invaluable resource for golfers of all levels. With detailed lessons and personal anecdotes, this book provides a comprehensive look at the record-shattering methods of one of history’s greatest golfers.

Videos

“Hello World” 1996
“I am Tiger Woods” – 1996

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