Tiger Woods Fans Snub Shirts as Golfer Has Worst Year of Career

Tiger Woods fans have put up with the philandering, the text messages and the domestic spats. Now comes what may be the hardest thing of all to tolerate: Losing.

Woods has played through the year without a single tournament win, putting him at 83rd on the PGA Tour’s money list. As his performance slumps, so have sales of his apparel line through Nike Inc., according to retailers Golfsmith International Holdings Inc., Roger Dunn Golf Shops and Golf Discount Superstore.

Golf apparel sales overall are on the rise, signaling consumers are returning to the course, just not to Woods. Nike gets about 10 percent of its golf sales from the Woods brand, whose shirts, jackets and pants are among the most expensive clothing the sportswear maker sells.

“Apparel is hot right now,” said Laura Dowdy, the clothing buyer for Roger Dunn, which has more than 20 stores. “Everything -- Adidas, Puma, Nike, except the Tiger brand.”

Nike, based in Beaverton, Oregon, doesn’t disclose sales for the Tiger Woods Collection. Nike gets about $650 million in sales tied to the sport, according to Matt Powell, an analyst at Charlotte, North Carolina-based researcher SportsOneSource, who provided the estimate for sales of the Woods line.

“We support Tiger and never underestimate his abilities as a competitor,” Nike spokeswoman Beth Gast said in an e-mail. “He’s a phenomenal athlete with over 70 wins on the PGA Tour and 95 wins worldwide.” She declined to comment further. Woods’s representatives did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment.

Volume Slump

The line’s volume through the first half dropped 7.5 percent from a year earlier at Golfsmith’s 76 stores, Chief Executive Officer Martin Hanaka said in an interview. Total golf apparel sales climbed 11 percent over the same period at the Austin, Texas-based retailer.

Nike fell 90 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $70.05 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have risen 6 percent this year.

“The Tiger effect has been negative this year,” Hanaka said. “Fortunately, other Nike products and other brands have been doing well, so we’ve been able to overcome it.”

Nike’s apparel sales climbed 13 percent in the quarter ended May 31, and its golf apparel sales also have climbed about that much this year, according to Powell. The retailer is now selling the fall 2010 men’s collection on its website. The cover boy? Not Tiger. It’s 2009 British Open Champion Stewart Cink. Woods appears in a list of “athletes” on a linked page.

Fallen Champion

Other than his rookie season, when he finished 24th, Woods has been in the top four on the money list every year on tour. This month, he recorded the worst 72-hole score -- 18 over par - - of his professional career.

“When Tiger’s doing well, people watch and buy his brand,” said David Martin, a branding expert with almost three decades of experience who runs Interbrand’s New York office and global golf practice. “When he’s not, people decide not to watch and they buy something else.”

Online retailer Golf Discount Superstore said it’s seen a “definite decline” for the brand. Roger Dunn, a division of Santa Ana, California-based Worldwide Golf Enterprises Inc., says almost all other apparel products are growing save for Tiger’s line.

Personal Problems

“Before, he was a champion,” said Patrick Rishe, a sports business professor at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri, and director of Sportsimpacts, which analyzes the economic impact of sports events. “He conveyed discipline and consistency. Now he’s lost that aura of perfection, on and off the course, and there’s no way Nike can create that aura again.”

Woods’s personal problems haven’t helped. Yesterday his lawyer announced that his divorce from model Elin Nordegren was completed, nine months after reports of his extramarital affairs surfaced.

Woods, 34, crashed his Cadillac sport-utility vehicle into a fire hydrant outside his Florida home last Thanksgiving, leading to his admission that he had relationships with several women during his marriage. One of those women, Joslyn James, created a website showcasing alleged text messages from the golfer that described various sex acts.

Nike first signed Tiger Woods to a five-year endorsement contract in 1996. The retailer has described the Tiger Woods Collection, launched in 1999, as “Nike Golf’s top-of-the-line apparel,” with sweaters and pants that cost more than $100 on the company’s Web site.

Nike hasn’t discounted its Woods Collection apparel and probably won’t, according to Powell, who says the company is counting on Woods returning to form and being “an important part of its portfolio.” Golfsmith also has no plans to lower prices for the brand, according to its chief marketing officer.

Nike Challenge

“The challenge to Nike is that we’ve never seen Tiger Woods weak before, and it’s completely antithetical to what his brand is,” Interbrand’s Martin said. “Some athletes can ski off into our memory as stars, but for Tiger, unless he gets it together this winter and starts winning, his career trajectory is a double-black diamond,” or exceptionally steep slope.

Not everyone has abandoned Woods. Clint Utz, 28, said he owns about 15 Tiger Woods Collection shirts and has bought several this year.

“All of a sudden, so many people were against him, but he’s still the same person that worked hard and achieved things no one else has ever achieved,” said Utz, a marketing director for Landscapes Unlimited, based in Lincoln, Nebraska. “Everyone loves a winner. They’ll come back.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Sherman in New York at asherman6@bloomberg.net

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