In 2014, Tiger Woods cashed three checks on the PGA Tour, worth $108,275. It was a lost year, due to injuries. What the new year will bring, in terms of his play, is unknown. What is known is that he’ll make millions off the course. Tiger Woods is open for business and “business is as strong as it has been in years,” Woods’s agent, Mark Steinberg, wrote in a recent email.
Woods’s website shows five courses in various stages of construction where he is involved as a designer. A massive bar and restaurant near his South Florida home called the Woods Jupiter is expected to open in 2015. It might be hard to imagine Woods as a backslapping restaurateur in the tradition of Mickey Mantle, but people who know him say he got tired of filling the Dirty Martini in Palm Beach Gardens and getting nothing out of it. When he arrives at the Martini, his presence gets tweeted out and within an hour the bar is packed by gawkers and drinkers, credit cards in hand.
As of this year, Woods’s annual December charity tournament has a new name, a new venue and a new sponsor, the Hero World Challenge, taking its title from an Indian motorcycle manufacturer. Hero MotoCorp, which plans to begin selling motorcycles in the U.S. in 2016, has an endorsement deal with Woods for an undisclosed sum.
Last year, Woods signed a new deal with a supplements company called MusclePharm, replacing a similar deal he had with Fuse Science. Fuse had announced a five-year contract with Woods in October 2011 but by last June the Fuse name was off the side of Woods’s golf bag. For years, Woods’s bag has been considered the second most expensive piece of real estate in golf marketing, after Woods’s hat.
Asked at a Hero World Challenge press conference what happened with Fuse, Woods said, “They didn’t quite have the patents and hence we didn’t quite get as far as we all had been expecting. MusclePharm, they have product already in place, and it’s about creating another brand within that and helping me out at the same time.”
Fuse, which trades under the ticker symbol DROP, opened at $80 a share on Nov. 21, 2011, the day Woods gave, his first televised interview, on CNBC, about his involvement with the company. Fuse was talking then of plans to someday introduce insulin treatment systems that could be administered orally, in addition to making bodily supplements for athletes. By Dec. 13, the stock price reached $250. It is now trading well under a penny a share. Calls to and messages left for the company’s former CEO, Adam Adler, and its current CEO, Brian Tuffin, were not returned. Woods had an equity interest in Fuse, but its terms were never disclosed. He and Steinberg did not say how the golfer fared financially in the deal. Woods must have owned less 5% or his name would be listed on the company’s SEC filings.
Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have both had formidable business careers, but each has had significant stumbles, too. Both have been active in course design. But beyond that, Palmer’s basic business model was to get paid for the use of his name. Nicklaus has often been more entrepreneurial and more active in management, particularly as an equipment manufacturer.
Woods appears to be taking a page from both. When he speaks about his business activities he uses a vocabulary and speaking style that is strikingly similar to the manner he uses when he talks about his evolving golf swing. At his tournament, Woods sat beside Pawan Munjal, the CEO of Hero, and talked about his relationship with Hero and with Munjal. “I’m looking to grow my foundation on a global level, he’s looking to grow Hero on a global level,” Woods said. “I think it’s a wonderful synergy of our global relationship.” One year into his deal with Fuse, with the stock down to $34 a share, Woods did a second interview with CNBC. In response to a question about his financial stake in the company, Woods said, “Well, I’m just excited to be part of a company like this, with Brian and all the great executives and just an amazing group of scientists.”
Over the years, Woods has, like a seasoned politician, become an expert at not answering the question being asked. But sometimes the question is so simple and so direct that even Woods, for all his skill, finds himself without any wiggle room. And that’s what happened at the press conference to announce his deal with Hero.
This was at the Isleworth Golf and Country Club, a gated community outside Orlando where Woods once lived. On the Tuesday before the start of the first Hero World Challenge, Woods and Munjal had a photo opp on a lawn in front of the Isleworth clubhouse. The event began about 15 minutes late, and it started to rain just as the festivities got under way. A smiling Woods, who has played through far worse, took a seat on a red-and-black Hero motorcycle. His new business partner stood behind him. Minutes later they were seated next to each other at a press conference.
As the event was breaking up, Bernie McGuire, a veteran golf writer who lives in Scotland, asked the most significant question of the session: “Have you ever ridden a motorbike?”
“No,” Woods said. “I haven’t.”
Woods plays with Nike clubs. He has said he used a gel made by Fuse Science. He will surely drink what the Woods Jupiter bartenders pour for him. But that day at Isleworth he climbed aboard a motorcycle with no key in the ignition, and that was more than enough for his new friends at Hero MotoCorp.
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