March 14, 2010: Tiger Woods, who has not been seen in a competitive golf situation since November, said he would return from his self-imposed hiatus at The Masters at the Augusta, Ga. National Golf Club.
The return to the PGA Tour is the next step in Woods' attempt to return to the top of the sports and marketing world following a Thanksgiving Day accident, which opened a Pandora's box of marital infidelity that threatened to destroy his public and personal life.
In a statement, Woods said, "The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect. After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I'm ready to start my season at Augusta."
The two opening rounds of The Masters will be on ESPN on April 8-9. The final two rounds will be on CBS on April 10-11. Practice rounds are scheduled for April 5-7 and normally do not get national coverage. Should Woods elect to arrive at Augusta early in the week, the event likely will attract major attention from ESPN and CBS, both of which will already be on the scene, as well as from a plethora of other media.
TV ratings without Woods this year have been down by as much as 50%, according to industry observers, as they were when he missed much of 2008 following knee surgery. Marketing partners such as Nike heralded his return in 2009 with dedicated TV spots and other ad support. None of Woods' partners said they would have similar marketing campaigns this time, preferring to let the focus be Woods on the golf course.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem typified the reactions from Woods' marketing partners and associates. "We were pleased to learn that Tiger Woods will be playing the Masters in a few weeks," Finchem said in a statement. "He has invested a lot of time taking steps, both in his personal and professional life, in order to prepare for his return. We all wish him and his family the best as he rejoins the Tour."
Since his private indiscretions became public knowledge, Woods has lost endorsement deals with Accenture, AT&T and PepsiCo's Gatorade. Concurrently, EA Sports has released two titles under its Tiger Woods line, while Nike, Tag Heuer, Gillette and Upper Deck have supported his personal decisions while maintaining their marketing distance. Woods earned about $100 million in endorsements in 2008, but General Motors ended its alliance due to the automaker's economic situation. Without the companies that recently cut ties with him, Woods could still earn more than $50 million this year in marketing deals.
Analysts do not expect current marketing partners to end their deals now that Woods is returning to golf, but new deals may not be forthcoming, either, until 2011. AT&T is a marketing partner of The Masters, however, and will still receive the benefit of increased attention being paid to the event. IBM and ExxonMobil also are among The Masters' marketing alliances.
Woods, whose last golf tournament was in November in Melbourne when he won the Australian Masters, said in his statement that he considered, but then bypassed, playing in the upcoming Tavistock Cup and Arnold Palmer Invitational. Analysts see The Masters as being a "friendly" environment regarding media and public pressures. However, the expectation of his return will create a media event that would be hard to match.
"Tiger will always have media pressure," David Schwab, vp-managing director of First Call, the celebrity-marketing consultantcy division of Octagon, McLean, Va., pointed out when Woods made his public apology on Feb. 19.
In addition, he will have the personal backing from such golf legends as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who will be sharing "honorary starter" roles. Both Palmer and Nicklaus have supported Woods during his personal challenges.
Earlier this month, Nicklaus also indicated that he expected Woods to play at The Masters. "It would surprise me if he didn't [play at The Masters], Nicklaus told reporters. "I can't imagine in 100 years that he is going to miss Augusta."
Woods made that observation a reality with his statement. "When I finally got into a position to think about competitive golf again, it became apparent to me that the Masters would be the earliest I could play. I called both Joe Lewis and Arnold Palmer and expressed my regrets for not attending the Tavistock Cup and the Arnold Palmer Invitational," Woods said in his statement. "I again want to thank them both for their support and their understanding. Those are fantastic tournaments and I look forward to competing in them again.
"I would also like to thank the Augusta National members and staff for their support. I have deep appreciation for everything that they do to create a wonderful event for the benefit of the game."
ESPN, which will cover the first two rounds, has been running its regular promo for much of this month. It could turn its pre-coverage coverage into a Super Bowl-type event, with day-long coverage and analysis from in-studio and on-site. It already has plans to cover the event on ESPN, ESPN3.com and ESPN Deportes, with SportsCenter on April 7 live from The Masters.
"Tiger's return to competitive golf at this year's Masters Tournament will surely be one of the biggest stories the sporting world has seen," John Wildhack, ESPN evp-programming and acquisitions, said in a statement. "We will cover the Masters Tournament and Tiger's return across a variety of ESPN platforms, both domestically and internationally."