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Bridgestone Golf CEO: Athlete endorsers only matter if they 'transcend' their sport

It was almost a full year ago that Bridgestone Golf signed Tiger Woods to a long-term deal to play exclusively with Bridgestone’s balls.

Since then, Woods has only played in one golf tournament: the Farmers Insurance Open in January 2017, where he missed the cut. He’s been injured, and was arrested for driving under the influence.

But none of that mattered, says Bridgestone Golf CEO Angel Ilagan.

“The payoff has already occurred for us”

Woods will finally return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge tournament in December, but Ilagan (it’s pronounced “e-loggin”) says, “The payoff has already occurred for us. His endorsement value is what’s really important for us. He picked our ball as the best ball out there. This is just added gravy for us if he plays.”

It’s quite a claim, considering that Woods has not won a PGA Tour event since 2013.

Ilagan says that Woods is, “the only golfer in the history of golf that has actually had a positive financial impact” on the sport. Fans of golf greats like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, or Greg Norman may dispute that. But certainly Woods’s impact on Nike is unquestioned: Nike first entered golf with a shoe in 1984, but Nike Golf truly took off when it signed Woods in 1996, then added balls in 1998, and clubs in 2002. On the other hand, Nike shut down its golf equipment business last year despite still having Woods as an endorser.

Tiger Woods promotes Bridgestone balls.
Tiger Woods promotes Bridgestone balls.

Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan

At a time when a once-hit sports brand like Under Armour is struggling (for four consecutive disappointing quarters) despite having an all-star roster of sponsored athletes, including the world’s No. 2 golfer Jordan Spieth, you might wonder if athlete endorsers just aren’t very useful anymore.

“I think that’s aways been true,” says Ilagan. “I don’t think the big-time athlete really has an impact—unless they transcend the game, such as Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan. If they don’t transcend the game and they can’t reach out and become somebody that people listen to and believe in, it’s not something that makes any value. Their play alone is not sufficient enough to create financial gains for an equipment company or sports company.” Woods, Ilagan suggests, transcends golf.

The anticipation for Woods’s return to competition next month is high, and there is healthy skepticism about how he might play. Most golf fans and golf media believe he will never win another tournament. But it sounds like Woods is winning for Bridgestone, whether he excels on the course or not.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

Read more:

Tiger Woods comeback begins with Bridgestone ball deal

PGA Tour sees a silver lining in China’s golf crackdown

Jim Furyk: We need to make golf more fun

Nike giving up on golf clubs isn’t just about Tiger Woods

Why Adidas is finally selling off its golf club business