GOLF

Tiger Woods officially billionaire, no thanks to the Saudis

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He reportedly turned down a ‘nine-figure’ deal to play on the new Saudi-backed golf tour, but no matter. Thanks to endorsements and real estate, he’s a billionaire anyway.

Tiger Woods’ laborious limp around the Southern Hills during last month’s PGA Championship was a stark reminder of the time that has passed since he roamed the 1997 Masters fairways en route to his first green jacket.

Triumph, injury, scandal, failure and triumph again filled the years that followed. But through it all, Woods, 46, has maintained his supremacy as one of the highest-earning athletes in the world, raking in more than $1.7 billion in salary, endorsements and other earnings over the course of his career. his 27-year career… more than anyone Forbes followed.

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Forbes now estimates his net worth at least $1 billion, based on his lifetime earnings, making him one of only three known billionaire athletes. The others are NBA superstar LeBron James, who leveraged his fame and fortune by taking stakes in a number of companies, and Michael Jordan, who hit ten figures after retirement, thanks to a timely investment in the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

Woods hit that rarified tune despite reportedly turning down a “breathtaking” offer from the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour, a deal LIV CEO Greg Norman told the Washington Post would have been in the “high nine figures”.

Yet at this point, less than 10% of Woods’ career earnings and net worth come from golf earnings. The bulk of his fortune comes from huge sponsorship deals with more than a dozen brands, including Gatorade, Monster Energy, TaylorMade, Rolex and Nike, which he signed with in 1996 and remains his biggest backer.

“He hit the right time in the right sport, being an athlete with a diverse background who was approachable,” said Joe Favorito, veteran sports business consultant and speaker at Columbia. “Brands like to know they have someone who is embraced by not only mainstream fans but also casual fans.”



Woods has used his status and earnings to expand into an array of other businesses, which now include a golf course design business (TGR Design), a live event production company (TGR Live) and a restaurant ( The Woods). Through TGR Ventures, Woods took stakes in Full Swing, a golf technology training tool; Heard, a hospitality software startup; and PopStroke, a luxury mini-golf experience with four locations in Florida and plans to open half a dozen more locations across the country in 2022. Woods is also identified as a partner in a SPAC announced in January, and he is an investor alongside British billionaire Joe Lewis’ Tavistock Group, golf rival Ernie Els and Justin Timberlake in NEXUS Luxury Collection, a group of clubs and resorts.

“[He’s] have been extremely adept at taking shares in companies, building their own business, in a way that athletes before them simply weren’t,” says legendary sports agent Leigh Steinberg, credited with inspiring the character of Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire.

Steinberg would know. He still remembers negotiating the biggest rookie contract in football history in 1975 – a deal that netted Atlanta Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski $600,000 over four years. Even adjusted for inflation, that’s only about $800,000 a year, less than dozens of NFL rookies earned last year.

What changed ? First, the value of live sports on television. In a world of streaming, almost no other programming can reliably generate a mass audience yet. In 2011, 51 of the top 100 TV shows of the year were sporting events. Last year, that number was 95 out of 100. The dollar value of television contracts has skyrocketed, taking with them player salaries or, in the case of golf, tournament prize money. Jack Nicklaus earned $5.7 million (less than $40 million in today’s dollars) during his four-decade playing career, which began professionally in 1961. That’s less than a third of Woods’ 27 years adjusted for inflation.

Woods’ impact on television golf ratings and the size of the purse cannot be overstated. In the early 2000s, according to former CBS president Neal Pilson, television ratings would drop 30% to 50% when Woods was not in contention at a tournament. This so-called “tiger effect” helped nearly triple PGA Tour earnings between 1996 and 2008, a streak during which Woods won 14 major championships. (He’s still a major draw, but less so these days.)

“Tiger was the instigator,” six-time Major champion Phil Mickelson said in a 2014 interview. increased sponsors, increased interest, and we all benefited from that.”



At his peak, Woods was the most prolific athlete in history, earning north of $100 million a year off the course. He held the No. 1 spot in Forbes‘list of highest-paid athletes for ten consecutive years, ending in 2012. Even his dramatic fall after his Thanksgiving car crash in 2009 didn’t derail his earning power. In the past 12 months, despite hardly ever playing the ball while recovering from a serious car accident, Woods has collected $68 million in off-course revenue, enough to make him the 14th highest paid athlete in the world.

Seeing Woods fight through obvious pain has sparked a new kind of Tiger mania as fans and sponsors once again support him in the role of resilient survivor rather than invincible conqueror. Woods’ wealth is guaranteed whether or not he plays a golf club again. Yet he has already announced his commitment to play in this summer’s Open Championship at St Andrews, and hasn’t ruled out playing in this month’s US Open Championship, despite dropping out of the final round of the championship. PGA last month due to pain in his surgery. legs and back repaired.

“At first he was a neat role model; he was someone who embodied the American dream,” Steinberg says. “In a way, the struggles only added to his profile.”

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