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TaylorMade seems to be giving Tiger Woods the one thing Nike never did, ending a historic sports endorsement deal

Cork Gaines   

TaylorMade seems to be giving Tiger Woods the one thing Nike never did, ending a historic sports endorsement deal
  • Tiger Woods is returning to the PGA Tour with a new golf-accessory line named "Sun Day Red."
  • Woods' new partnership with TaylorMade ended his $500 million endorsement with Nike.

Tiger Woods is set to return to the PGA Tour on Thursday for this week's Genesis Open in Los Angeles but without his iconic Nike swoosh logo.

On Tuesday, Tiger Woods and TaylorMade, a maker of golf equipment and apparel, announced an expanded partnership with a new golf-accessory line named "Sun Day Red."

Nike had been Woods' main sponsorship partner since he turned pro in 1996. Forbes reported that his relationship with Nike was worth about $500 million, helping Woods to become one of the first billionaire athletes.

But what Nike never did was make Woods a full-fledged partner and give him an ownership stake in his brand at the company. Several reports say Woods never owned equity in Nike or the Woods brands.

So when Woods' most recent contract expired, that appears to be exactly what TaylorMade did.

Josh Gerben, a trademark attorney and the founder of Gerben IP, analyzed the trademark filings and found they were consistent with sharing ownership between TaylorMade and Woods.

"Tiger and TaylorMade set up a completely new company to sell Tiger's products," Gerben wrote on X. "The deal structure suggests that Tiger and TaylorMade are sharing ownership (and profits) of the new company."

In a breakdown of the trademark filings, Gerben highlighted some of the details that stood out.

"The fact that TaylorMade filed for an LLC (vs a corporation) is really interesting," Gerben wrote. "Typically, an LLC is formed when the entity in question will be owned by multiple individuals or companies."

Gerben also said it was highly unusual for a company to create a new entity unless there was an ownership stake in the new venture for the athlete.

"The fact that TaylorMade created a new company to own these trademarks also indicates that the entity was created solely for the partnership with Woods," Gerben wrote. "This suggests that Woods will have equity in both the trademarks and whatever project he is launching with TaylorMade."

Tyrone Walker, an intellectual-property attorney for Hunt & Hunt Lawyers in Australia, where some of Sun Day Red's trademark filings were made in January, agreed.

He said the filings were made in the name of "TaylorMade Lifestyle Ventures LLC," suggesting a joint venture rather than ownership by a single entity.

Gerben also noted that TaylorMade Lifestyle Ventures LLC was a new entity different from Taylor Made Golf Company, Inc., the one that handles other TaylorMade trademark filings.

David Rumsey of Front Office Sports said co-ownership was also supported by Sun Day Red being sold under a newly created company, separate from TaylorMade. In addition, the new business is set to be based in San Clemente, California, away from TaylorMade's headquarters in Carlsbad, California.

TaylorMade CEO David Abeles even suggested during the press conference that this was Woods' company and others were just there for support.

"This is a full-blown unequivocal partnership," Abeles said. "There's no influence from TaylorMade on this brand. The brand stands alone."

Many companies have offered partial ownership as part of deals with megastar athletes in recent years. This includes the two-time major golf champion Jon Rahm, who signed a new contract with the Topgolf Callaway brand in July that includes equity in the company.

The list of Nike athletes who have been on Woods' level over the past 30 years is short and includes Michael Jordan, Serena Willams, and LeBron James.

What those athletes have that Woods didn't was a partnership with Nike that went beyond the typical athlete endorsement and included a financial stake in their brands in businesses created separately from Nike in conjunction with the apparel giant.

Self-inflicted damage and bad timing for Tiger

While we may never know why Nike and Woods never expanded their partnership, the timing of certain events over the past 15 years suggests a combination of his own doing and bad luck.

Nike first expanded their presence in the golf world in the early 2000s, going beyond apparel and making clubs and other equipment. At the end of the decade, in 2009, Woods had the first major blemish to his legacy when he was involved in a Thanksgiving night single-car crash that helped launch the scandal involving numerous infidelities that ended his marriage.

While several companies, including Gatorade, dropped their endorsement deals with Woods, Nike kept him as part of their team even though he retreated from the public eye, played in limited tournaments, and didn't win an event for three years.

But while Nike stayed with Woods, it symbolically passed the torch in 2013 when it signed Rory McIlroy to a $250 million contract, effectively making him the new face of the brand's golf division.

Over the next 10 years, Woods rehabilitated his image despite some setbacks, including several back surgeries, an arrest on a charge of DUI, and a scary car crash that nearly cost him his leg and effectively forced Woods to retire from playing full-time on the PGA Tour.

Unfortunately for Woods, his return to likability coincided with Nike pulling back a bit from the golf world. In 2016, Nike announced it would no longer make golf equipment. This opened the door for other companies to partner with Woods.

A few months later, Woods signed with TaylorMade to use their equipment. Meanwhile, Woods kept wearing Nike apparel on the course.

As for the new brand, the venture's name, "Sun Day Red," refers to Woods' wearing red during the final round of golf tournaments. Woods said during the press conference announcing his new brand that his love of red came from his mother, who thought it was a good power color for Woods, a Capricorn.

The logo includes 15 stripes for Tiger's 15 major championships, and TaylorMade said during the announcement that "Sun Day" is two words because of the power of the "rule of three" in everyday life.

But more importantly, for the golf world, the new brand ends one of the most iconic and lucrative partnerships in sports history between Woods and Nike.

Business Insider reached out to TaylorMade, Nike, and representatives for Woods. As of the time of publication, they hadn't responded.

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