As soon as Jordan Spieth donned his green jacket, the comparisons became inevitable. For starry-eyed observers, Spieth's dominant wire-to-wire victory Sunday at the 2015 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, validated the notion he was heir to Tiger Woods’ legacy as golf’s preeminent superstar.
Spieth and Woods are the only 21-year-olds in history to win the Masters. Both men finished at 18 under par and now co-hold the tournament record at Augusta National Golf Club. Both were stars in the sports marketing world before they could legally buy a beer. And Spieth certainly has the potential for a lucrative, successful career on the PGA Tour and a bevy of marketing opportunities away from the course. But he has a long way to go before he approaches the kind of success Woods has experienced with Nike and several other major brands over the last two decades, experts said.
“It takes more than one big win to propel somebody on the national stage,” said Allen Adamson, a sports branding expert at Landor Associates in New York City. “If he can put a bunch of them together, he’s got potential. But it’s too early to anoint him the new ‘king of golf’ or ‘Tiger 2.’”
Even for golf lifers, Spieth’s performance over the weekend was staggering. He took control of the Masters during the opening round last Thursday and never looked back, setting record marks for birdies, 36-hole score and 54-hole score, the Associated Press reported. He was the Masters’ first winner to lead from start to finish since 1976 and the first golfer ever to reach 19-under at the tournament -- something not even Woods managed to do when he destroyed the field by 12 strokes at the 1997 Masters.
It hasn’t taken long for the sports marketing world to take notice. One expert predicted Spieth’s win would allow him to score an estimated $10 million in annual endorsement money, Bloomberg News reported. Spieth’s record-setting performance was a major victory for Under Armour, the sports apparel brand that gave him a four-year contract before he turned pro in 2013 and extended the deal in January through 2025.
The golf prodigy wore Under Armour gear from head-to-toe all weekend. That product placement earned the brand more than $30 million in television broadcast exposure, estimated Eric Smallwood, a sports sponsorship analytics expert based in Detroit. Unsurprisingly, Under Armour seems happy with its choice.
“Thanks to Jordan, our company grew up today,” Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank told ESPN.com. “He was challenged by the greatest players in the world on the biggest stage, looked them straight in the eye and never blinked. This is a global event and he’s the leading trending athlete in the world right now.”
But it’s hard to compare a player like Spieth, despite his talent, to Woods, who by the early 2000s had become a crossover star on par with Chicago Bulls great and legendary endorser Michael Jordan. Spieth’s dominant win wasn’t a surprise to the golf fans who have tracked his progress since his second-place finish at last year’s Masters, but the general public didn’t see it coming. Woods’ rise to stardom was a foregone conclusion before he ever won a major, as evidenced by the five-year, $40 million deal he signed with Nike in 1996 at age 19.
Over the next two decades, Woods carved out marketing deals that earned him hundreds of millions of dollars, to go along with 79 PGA Tour victories and 14 majors. He was the world’s sixth-highest paid athlete in 2014, a year in which he barely played due to recovery from surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back, Forbes reported. At his peak six years ago, Woods earned $80 million more than golf’s second-highest earner.
Woods’ brand took a hit in 2009 amid revelations that he participated in a series of extramarital affairs, while injuries and age have sapped the aura of invincibility he once exuded on the course. But he’s still the name and face most fans associate with golf, and one major win by Spieth won’t change that. A 2014 Golf Digest report placed Woods' career earnings at more than $1.3 billion.
“Tiger almost brought a new energy to the game by himself for so long that became almost an Achilles' heel for the sport,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “I don’t think people will not watch a tournament because Jordan Spieth isn’t playing.”
Still, a commanding performance at the Masters will allow Spieth, who already earns an estimated $4.5 million away from the course, to join Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler as golfers who attract attention from crossover marketers. Spieth is young, humble and projects to be a quality contender for years to come -- traits that are valued in the advertising sector. To catch Woods, who once held golf's world No. 1 ranking for a record 281 consecutive weeks, Spieth will have to build on the success he experienced at Augusta, and then some.
“Time will tell, but it’s really important to see how he does in the next month, two months, in PGA and how he finishes,” Smallwood said. “It’s not a fluke. I think he’s going to do well, but it’s going to be about performance. People are going to want instantaneous results.”