Woods signs with Rolex, 1st major deal in 2 years

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

For our exclusive Q&A with Tiger Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, dealing with the endorsement deal and others potentially on the horizon, click here.

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The golf cognoscenti may not be willing yet to restore their faith in Tiger Woods, but at least one major marketer is backing him – and putting its brand reputation on the line.

Rolex announced Oct. 5 that it has entered into a partnership with Woods, saying the former world No. 1 is “joining the family of Rolex ambassadors.” Neither terms of the deal nor details of Woods’ marketing role for the Swiss-based watch company were disclosed.

As questions swirl about Woods and the quality of his game, almost an equal number have queried his ability to effectively serve as a corporate pitchman again.

But the Rolex signing – Woods’ first significant endorsement deal since his fall from grace – indicates marketers may not permanently abandon the icon who just a few years ago was as dominant in the global marketing arena as he was on the course.

At the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open, where Woods is returning to competition this week, his agent Mark Steinberg said the Rolex agreement would be the first of a “couple of announcements” related to endorsements. Steinberg said a deal for Woods’ golf bag could be announced as early as six weeks; Fry’s Electronics, this week’s tournament sponsor, reportedly is in negotiations with Woods.

Regarding the Rolex partnership, Steinberg said: “This makes a big statement. I think this shows me where people are with Tiger Woods.”

Woods’ endorsement portfolio had earned him nearly $100 million annually, and he represented blue-chip brands and category leaders, including Accenture, AT&T and Gatorade. After his sex scandal, most of Woods’ major corporate partners severed ties with him, with Nike and EA Sports being the notable exceptions.

Though Woods’ marketability likely never will be as versatile as it once was, it still is associated with success and excellence, sports-business experts say. And he’ll amplify those traits if he starts winning again, which clearly is Rolex’s expectations.

The company has a long history in golf with relationships dating to the 1960s with marquee players such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Its current stable of endorsers include Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and Adam Scott.

In a statement, Rolex said it “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.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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