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What would a retired Tiger Woods mean for his sponsorship appeal?

The possibility of Tiger Woods retiring appears more likely than ever after the injury ridden 39 year-old said that he would call it a day if his latest back operation did not heal properly. Despite his fall from grace both in and outside the sport, Woods remains the most marketable golfer in the world so how might this change with the onset of retirement?

After three back operations in 19 months Woods recently stated that he will not have any further operations in a bid to extend his playing days.

At a press conference last week ahead of the Hero World Challenge in, the Bahamas the 14 time Open champion publicly contemplated his place in the sport when he conceded that he didn’t know if he would ever be fit enough to play golf again.

“I don't want to have another procedure, and even if I don't come back and I don't play again, I still want to have a quality of life with my kids,” said Woods.

The comments mark an even more open Woods in what looks to be the twilight of his career and bring to the forefront the likelihood that one of the most marketable sportsmen in the world is preparing to make his curtain call.

Woods has arguably done more for golf than any other star in the history of the sport. In 2009, Forbes named him the first athlete to earn $1bn and he has continued to remain the sport’s most marketable star even after his fall from grace both on and off the course in recent years.

Despite this, “it will be a very sad day for the sport” says Steve Martin, chief executive of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment agency.

“His brand appeal is not just unique in golf but in sport. To win the amount of majors he has is incredible.”

A lot has changed since his last major win at the US Open in 2008 however. On 25 November 2009 The National Inquirer ran an exclusive with the headline “Tiger Woods Cheating Scandal” and the pedestal on which his name sat atop for over a decade came tumbling down like a house of cards.

“Tiger Woods was absolutely adored and hero worshiped in the sports world but that changed after the scandal,” maintained Martin.

“The off course drama was pretty averagely handled and I think it’s diluted his value and brand appeal. Time moves on but I’m not sure he’ll never be loved like he once was.”

At one point Woods’ earned $110m in endorsements but following the news of the scandal many of his backers dropped him including Gatorade, Gillette, EA and Accenture.

He made a public apology soon after the reports broke and even briefly returned to the number one spot in 2013 but as Martin points out, his brand has been diluted. He now earns half of what he once did in endorsements with Forbes estimating it somewhere in the region of $50-60m.

Whether his sponsorships decrease further with the onset of retirement is uncertain. Martin believes that “time will tell” but suggests that retirement is unlikely to drastically change his marketing appeal.

“Away from the course his status is untainted, he is iconic and certain brands will play on that iconic status whether he is playing or not.”

Joel Seymour-Hyde, VP of strategy at Octagon, believes that Woods’ brand has a similar longevity potential to some of the most famous athletes of any sport.

“What he did for the sport of golf is similar to what Ali did for boxing,” says Joel.

Similar to how Ali’s status and achievements helped Adidas and other brands become household names in boxing, Nike’s owes a similar debt to Woods for helping it gain a foothold in the sport.

Joel points out that Woods helped make Nike a “legitimate player” in the sport of golf; something which has the potential to draw in other brands.

A retired Woods may be even more appealing to sponsors given that he would have more free time to dedicate as a brand ambassador.

“When an athlete is playing and training they have a very limited number of free days which they can offer sponsors but when they retire their availability is much greater.”

Regardless of the scandals in personal life and his poor performance in recent years, Woods’ legacy appears to have already been cemented as a result of his near decade long domination in the sport. While it now looks unlikely that he will surpass the 18 major wins held by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, the golfer's playing days will soon be resigned to the record books and brands will always be keen to align themselves with a man who is responsible for rewriting most of them.

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