By Parija Kavilanz and Ramishah Maruf, CNN
New York (CNN) — Tiger Woods has broken up with Nike after a protracted 27-year collaboration with the world’s largest sportwear company, the golf legend announced on Monday.
“Over 27 years ago, I was fortunate to start a partnership with one of the most iconic brands in the world,” Woods wrote on X.
Woods went on to write that “there will certainly be another chapter.”
Nike bid adieu to Woods on Instagram, saying “it was a hell of a round, Tiger.”
“Tiger, you challenged your competition, stereotypes, conventions, the old school way of thinking. You challenged the entire institution of golf. You challenged us. And most of all, yourself. And for that challenge we’re grateful,” the company added.
Popular Swiss sneaker brand ON Running’s CEO Marc Maurer, addressing speculation following Woods departure at Nike, told an audience at the ICR retailing Conference on Monday that Woods was not signing with the brand.
“We hope he finds a great new partner. It’s not going to be us,” Maurer told the gathering.
Nike has almost been synonymous with Woods, from when he first went pro in 1996 to his Masters win in 2019, his first major tournament win in 11 years. Even though a sex scandal drove sponsors such as Gatorade, AT&T and Accenture away from Woods – losing him an estimated $20 million – his relationship with Nike stayed intact.
In 1996, Nike launched the iconic “Hello World” commercial, based on Woods’ professional debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open, where he began the press conference with, “I guess, hello world, huh?”
Woods signed a five-year endorsement contract with Nike in 2000. It was worth an estimated $85 million, making it the richest endorsement contract in sports history at the time.
At one point, Woods’ Nike deal was reported to be worth as much as $20 million a year, CNN previously reported. Woods signed multiple deals with the company over a span of nearly three decades, including a 10-year deal signed in 2013 that’s worth about $200 million. But in 2019, his deal was worth about half of that amount annually, Bob Dorfman, an endorsement expert and executive creative director at Baker Street Advertising, said at the time.
Woods is still one of the best known athletes in the country, three times better known by the general public than the average athlete, according to surveys by Q Score.
And while positive opinions of him are down from his heyday among the general public, sports fans still have a more positive view of him than the average athlete, according to the Q Score surveys.
“Why is Nike separating from Woods who has been a long-time brand ambassador for the brand? It could be that Nike is looking to get out of the golf business,” said Eric Smallwood, president of Apex Marketing Group, a sports and entertainment firm that evaluates sponsorships and advertising campaigns.
“Nike used to sell golf balls and clubs with its logo and that ended. It still sells golf clothing and footwear,” he said.
Smallwood said he would be surprised if the breakup was due to any concern that Woods was nearing the end of his career.
“Woods is synonymous with golf. Nike has stuck with him through his life trials and his comebacks,” he said. “Woods can play as long as he wants to in the PGA and then the Senior PGA. Look how long Nike has held on to Michael Jordan. He hasn’t played in over 20 years.”
In August, Woods was named the sixth player director on the powerful PGA Tour policy board, giving players a one seat advantage on the board after the controversial merger between the PGA Tour and Saudi-backed LIV golf. Woods had reportedly turned down nearly $1 billion to play in LIV golf.
Joshua Butler, founder of online golf clothing brand J. Butler Golf, called Woods a savvy business person “who understands that the landscape of golf is changing.”
“Nike has been pulling away from golf products. Tiger has vast opportunity to land somewhere else,” said Butler. “Golf clothing companies are coming into the market with other options, better options and varied price points.”
“It’s not that Nike has done anything wrong, it’s not that Tiger Woods may not necessarily be happy with his relationship with Nike for the last 27 years, but this is a golden opportunity to go after a younger crowd, to go after individuals who aren’t rich that want to play the game,” he said. “Tiger understands that, the importance of what he’s meant to the golf industry as well as to people of color. That’s why I think this is such as monumental shift right now.”
–CNN’s Chris Isidore, Robert Ilich and Wayne Sterling contributed to this story
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