In the year since he flashed his trademark smile and announced his pro career with a confident “Hello, world,” Tiger Woods has unleashed a tidal wave of more than $650 million washing over the golf world.
Ticket sales shot up, TV ratings jumped, interest in the game increased, sales for his main sponsor took off and the spirits of tournament directors soared as they anticipated a spillover to events in which Woods does not play.
While golf was on a roll even before Woods announced on Aug. 27, 1996, he was turning pro, the difference now is that non-golfers are paying attention.
The new money in golf includes increases in TV contracts and a jump in ticket and merchandise sales, as well as Woods’ record-setting endorsement deals.
This influx of cash is conservatively estimated at $653.5 million, according to tournament officials, TV and corporate executives and analysts interviewed by The Associated Press.
Woods’ youthful enthusiasm, intelligent charm, immediate success and non-European heritage in an overwhelmingly white sport helped push golf into the spotlight.
“He got them into the tent,” said CBS Sports vice president for programming Rob Correa, whose golf ratings rose 24 percent this year. “Now, he doesn’t have to be in contention. He has gotten them to sample the sport and they like what they see.”
At tournament after tournament this year, it was clear many spectators were people who not only had never been to a tournament before but had also never been on a golf course. At Pebble Beach, a spectator asked a reporter “what the ‘negative 13’ next to Woods’ name means.”
“I don’t see it stopping,” Correa said. “I don’t think your ratings go up 24 percent in one year by getting golfers who weren’t watching last year. The increase means people who aren’t playing the game are watching.”
That has long been the main limiting factor to golf audiences. Only those who played the game watched it.
“Tiger has introduced golf to a new audience,” said Dede Patterson, tournament director of the Buick Classic in suburban New York where advance ticket sales rose 35 percent this year because Woods was playing.
In 12 months as a pro, Woods, making more than $2.91 million worldwide and $2.71 million on the PGA Tour, already in the top 90 on the career money list. He’s made another $1.2 million in appearance fees for events around the world.
A series of five-year deals with Nike, Titleist, American Express and Rolex are worth $95.2 million, according to sources contacted by the AP. A part-ownership with The Official All-Star Cafe makes Woods the $100 million man.
He also has financial ties to Golf Digest and Sportsline, and a $2.2 million book deal with Warner Books.
Ticket sales this year at tournaments in which Woods played rose as much as 35 percent, according to tournament directors, and concession and souvenir sales rose as much as 28 percent.
“We had the best year ever,” said Lou Russo, director of the Pebble Beach tournament. “Our biggest year prior to this year was 1995, and we showed an approximately 20 percent increase.”
Then there was television. Last year, 19.4 million homes watched the final round of the four major championships. This year, the figure was 30.3 million - a 56 percent increase.
It now looks as if Woods’ major backers got a bargain. Nike, which signed Woods to a five-year, $40 million endorsement deal, gained the most. Sales of golf apparel and footwear doubled to $120 million in the fiscal year that ended May 31, and are projected to top $200 million this fiscal year.