It has been announced that the golfer Tiger Woods has entered into a new endorsement agreement with Rolex. As reported in the article "Tiger Woods Takes Major Step on the Corporate Sponsor Comeback Trail" here, according to the Rolex press release:
"This association pays tribute to the exceptional stature of Tiger Woods and the leading role he plays in forging the sport's global appeal. It also constitutes a joint commitment to the future. Rolex is convinced that Tiger Woods still has a long career ahead of him and that he has all the qualities required to continue to mark the history of golf. The brand is committed to accompanying him in his new challenges."In light of Woods' recent difficulties, this announcement led me to ponder the world of endorsements, both from the legal and branding vantage-points.
First, a word about the legal context of endorsements, which can be viewed as an arrangement in which the endorsing party is typically paid by a third party to lend his name to a product or service of the third party. The endorsing party may or may not be directly connected to the goods or services that he is endorsing. Regardless of whether the endorsing party has a direct connection with the goods or services, no direct tradevmark issue is involved. While the endorsing party may (or may not) have an interest in the quality of the goods or services that he is endorsing, it is the personality of the endorser that is paramount. To the extent that intellectual property and related rights are relevant here, they will more likely be found in the area of the law of privacy or personality.
As for the branding agreement itself, as most of the world probably knows, the recent story of Tiger Woods is a tale of towering competitive triumph followed by personal and later competitive difficulties. Following a car accident in which he was involved in late November 2009, it become known that the golfer been involved in a series of public indiscretions that led to his ultimate divorce (at a price of $750 million to his ex-wife). Moreover, on the golf course Woods fell from being the greatest golfer of his generation, and perhaps of all time (although I still vote for Jack Nicklaus on that score), to falling completely out the ranking of the top 50 golfers on the tour circuit. Whether the reason for his competitive decline is the impact of personal life and/or a series of nagging injuries, the fact is tht Woods is today just another professional golfer lodged somewhere in the middle of the pack.
And yet--no less a brand than Rolex has chosen to identify itself with Woods in a high-
profile endorsement deal. On first glance, this seems a bit strange. After all, why would Rolex join forces with a personality who seems to be "damaged goods". True, Rolex runs various advertisements that emphasize the notion of challenge and ultimate success, and its announcement emphasizes the idea of Woods facing (and presumably ultimately overcoming) his greatest challenge. This is echoed in the tag line to the advertisement--"Rolex and Tiger Woods: A Partnership for a New Challenge." Still, the jury is still out whether Woods will ever regain his competitive edge.
I assume that Rolex is willing to take that risk and that it knows what it is doing when it signed up with Woods. After all, as the article states, "[e]verybody loves a comeback". Moreover, it turns out that Rolex had previously been in partnership with Woods, before he left ("dumped") them in 2002 in favour of rival watchmaker Tag Heuer for $2 million per year [on Woods' relationship with Tag Heuer see the earlier IPKat posts here and, on a slightly naughtier note, here]. However, turnabout is fair play, and it seems that Tag Heuer itself terminated its relationship with Wood several months ago. Whether Woods then contacted Rolex, or the reverse, reports indicate the current partnership is for a price tag substantially less than Rolex paid to Woods prior to 2002.
Support for the deal comes from another article, "Super Bowl, Yankees and Tiger Woods Leads Forbes Top Sports Franchises", here. As the article notes,
"... Woods proved that bad PR is better than no PR. While his brand value plummeted from $82 million last year to $55 million this year, Tiger Woods is still far and away the world's most valuable athlete."Indeed, there appear to be rumours that Woods is soon to sign an endorsement contract with a "bag company." Given Woods' lack of success on the links (and noting that the New York Yankees failed yet again last night to advance in the American baseball play-offs), there seemingly is no necessary connection between competitive and financial success in the world of endorsements.