This time, you can call it a comeback.
After a series of personal missteps and a hard-fought battle with back injuries, Tiger Woods made his triumphant return to glory on Sunday — nabbing his fifth Masters Tournament title after an 11-year drought.
The excitement over the historic victory seemed nearly palpable across mainstream and social media over the past 24 hours, but somewhere lurking behind it is a burning question: Does this mean golf is back, too?
For Matt Powell, VP and senior industry adviser at The NPD Group Inc., a monumental moment for a golf legend does not an industrywide rebound make.
“There are a lot of systemic headwinds for golf that are just not going away — in particular: Millennials are not picking up the game as quickly as Boomers are aging out of it,” explained Powell. “The game needs young people to be playing it to reverse its fortunes. I don’t think a 43-year-old guy winning a golf tournament is going to inspire young people to get out and pick up the game.’
In just the past few years, dominant athletic brands Nike and Adidas scaled back their presence in the sport. The former exited the golf equipment business in 2016, while the latter divested its TaylorMade, Adams Golf and Ashworth golf brands in 2017. Both firms faced pressure to back away from the industry amid sluggish trends.
Still, according to Susquehanna Financial LLLP Sam Poser, the media frenzy surrounding Woods’ win “couldn’t hurt” the sport overall.
“It can’t be bad,” he said, adding “but I think this does more for Nike as a brand than for golf as a sport.”
The Swoosh, which has stayed the course with Woods since picking him up as an endorser in 1996, had quickly followed up the legendary golfer’s win with an emotional video spot on Sunday afternoon. The ad chronicles Woods sustaining the “same dream” for four decades while experiencing “every high and low.”
Despite the inspiring message, Poser and Powell are both doubtful that Woods’ win will significantly resonate with teen males — the cohort on whom the future of the sport largely rests.
“There’s nobody in golf that’s totally capturing everybody’s imagination right now,” Poser said, adding that Puma athlete and PGA golfer Rickie Fowler has perhaps the biggest potential to draw in younger players. “The majority of the [sports’] fans aren’t the young fans. If you think about it, a lot of millennials don’t have the time and money to do it.”
Similarly, Powell counted a laundry list of reasons why millennials and Gen Z won’t take the baton from their parents and grandparents and carry golf into the future.
“The values of the game of golf just aren’t [akin] to the way millennials do sport: The rules are complicated. It takes a long time to play. It’s not inclusive. It’s not diverse. Representation of minorities is low. Golf courses smell like a chemical factory to keep them green. I could go [on],” he said, noting millennials and Gen Z aren’t likely to ditch their core values as they age and adopt the sport later.
Nevertheless, B. Riley FBR analyst Jeff Van Sinderen believes millennials are paying attention to Woods’ win and the new — even if it’s short-term — wave of excitement around golf.
“This is the kind of thing that increases engagement,” Van Sinderen said, adding he anticipates competition in the space could heat up among brands like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. “Golf has been reinvigorated a bit by Tiger’s comeback, and I would suspect that will last for a while.”
According to data provided by The NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service, golf shoe sales dipped about 2 percent year over year to $233.6 million in 2016 but jumped 8 percent to $251.9 million in 2017. Overall, according to the U.S. Golf Economy Report, the golf industry drove about $84.1 billion in economic activity across the United States in 2016, a 22 percent gain from 2011.
Why Tiger Woods’ Comeback Won’t Boost Excitement in Golf Footwear