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Tiger Woods Is Back. Will Sponsors Buy In?

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In the past few weeks, Tiger Woods has made a seemingly improbable comeback on the golf course. But can his image rebound the same way off it?

That is the question that brands and advertisers are posing as Mr. Woods returns to the Masters on Thursday for the first time since 2015, while playing his best golf in years. The past month has brought swelling television ratings and overcrowded, rowdy galleries for Mr. Woods’s PGA Tour appearances. When he finished in a second-place tie at the Valspar Championship in early March — at one point sinking a 44-foot birdie putt that had the crowd screaming — the television ratings for the final round were the highest for a non-major tournament since 2013. For a time, the streaming service of PGA Tour Live crashed because of “unprecedented traffic.”

All this is evoking memories of the unprecedented fan interest that made Mr. Woods one of the most recognized — and influential — athletes for more than a decade, worth about $90 million per year in endorsement contracts alone.

But it has been a while. The fallout from the 2009 revelations of his extramarital affairs cost him endorsement deals with Gatorade, AT&T, General Motors and Gillette, among others. The few companies that stood by him, namely Nike, did so despite multiple injury-plagued and underwhelming seasons; since 2010, Mr. Woods has eight PGA Tour wins, after winning 71 times in the 14 previous years.

“He has a little bit of wind in his sails,” said David Carter, a professor of sports business at the University of Southern California. “The key is going to be can he win, can he stay healthy and can he stay out of trouble? If he can do that and remain competitive, then I think the big brands will return.”

Some brands had already bet on a Tiger Woods comeback, even when it looked unlikely. Bridgestone reached out to Mr. Woods about playing its golf ball in September 2016, shortly after Nike announced that it would no longer be selling golf equipment (though it would continue its Woods-branded clothing line). It hardly mattered that Mr. Woods had not appeared in a tournament in 13 months.

Angel Ilagan, Bridgestone Golf’s chief executive, said in a recent interview that the company had sent 12 dozen balls to Mr. Woods, hoping he would attach his name and endorsement to the product, which he eventually did, signing a multi-year contract in December of that year

“We know Tiger’s brand strength,” Mr. Ilagan said. “Whether he does play or not doesn’t really matter. That’s just icing on the cake.”

With Mr. Woods apparently close to his previous form — he is the betting favorite to win his fifth green jacket at the Masters — that icing is already tasting sweet. Already in 2018, Bridgestone’s sales of golf balls have increased 115 percent over the same period a year ago. Mr. Ilagan attributed that to Mr. Woods; Bridgestone has already begun to market a Woods edition golf ball, which it introduced on Wednesday.

TaylorMade, which signed Mr. Woods to use its clubs in January last year, said it saw no need to build a marketing campaign around the star, because the mere fact that he plays with the clubs or talks about their performance in interviews does the selling job.

“When Tiger says something, the world takes notice,” David Abeles, the company’s chief executive, said. “Because it’s true. We’re excited just when he talks in his own words.”

Mr. Ilagan suggested that Mr. Woods’s rebound from the dramatic turn his career took in 2009 had made him more relatable and perhaps likable for fans. “His absence showed what was missing when he wasn’t there,” Mr. Ilagan said.

Martin Buckley, global vice president and general manager of Nike Golf, which sells a full line of Woods-branded clothing, including shoes, shirts and sweaters, said that fans would be seeing a lot more of him in Nike advertisements this summer.

Nike stood by Mr. Woods throughout his tabloid troubles over the past decade, even as other sponsors fell away. He was last No. 1 in the world golf rankings in 2014.

“He’s a unique, integral part of the Nike family,” Mr. Buckley wrote in an email, “and we don’t see that changing any time soon.”

But while performance brands remain aligned with Mr. Woods, more mainstream companies have not yet jumped back on the bandwagon. Peter Land, a partner at Finsbury, the strategic communications firm, suspects a reason could be that Mr. Woods likely alienated women when news about his extramarital affairs surfaced.

“Brands with a strong female stakeholder base will continue to be a struggle for Tiger,” said Mr. Land, who was with PepsiCo when Gatorade, which PepsiCo owns, decided to drop Mr. Woods. “There are so many other successful and charismatic global athletes to partner with — and they come with a lower risk profile.”

The companies that might benefit most from Mr. Woods’s resurgence could be the ones that got on board a few years ago, seizing on a “buy low” opportunity, said Mr. Carter, the University of Southern California professor.

Full Swing Golf, which makes golf simulators, started a relationship with Mr. Woods in 2014, when he was rehabbing from injury. Its chief executive, Ryan Dotters, thought Mr. Woods could use the simulator to train indoors, and Mr. Woods was receptive.

“It was definitely a strategic move,” Mr. Dotters said. “We felt no matter what Tiger had gone through in the past, we knew his brand was extremely strong. We thought there was a big opportunity there.”

The relationship has not always been easy. Last May, Mr. Woods was arrested and charged with driving under the influence after being found asleep behind the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz. A toxicology report found several powerful painkillers in his system that he said he was taking to cope with his fourth back surgery that spring.

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Dow futures rise more than 200 points after Wall Street worst sell-off in months

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Shares of Japan’s Sony after firm raises annual profit forecast

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A man walks past the logo of Japans Sony displayed at the company’s showroom in Tokyo on October 28, 2020.

KAZUHIRO NOGI | AFP via Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Shares of Sony surged in Tokyo on Thursday, a day after the Japanese electronics giant raised its annual profit forecast.

Sony shares in Japan were up 6.3% in Thursday afternoon trade even though Japan’s broader index, the Nikkei 225, was lower by around 0.3%

On Wednesday, Sony raised its forecast for its annual operating income by 13% to 700 billion yen (approx. $6.7 billion). It came as the firm announced a operating profit of about 317.8 billion yen (around $3.04 billion) for the three months ended Sept. 30.

Jefferies Asia’s Atul Goyal told CNBC on Thursday that he’s “extremely bullish” on Sony. The firm owns the stock and currently has a “buy” rating on Sony, with a price target of 13,230 yen per share — more than 50% higher than where the price currently sits.

… this is one of the best companies that we have seen in our coverage.

Atul Goyal

Managing Director, Jefferies Asia

Sony is set to release its next generation video game console, PlayStation (PS) 5, which would come on the back of the blockbuster success of PlayStation 4.

“It is looking very solid, very strong for PlayStation 5 and the whole cycle that lies ahead of us for the next 5 to 6 years,” Goyal, a managing director at Jefferies Asia, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Thursday. He highlighted Sony’s claims that the company received as many preorders in 12 hours for the PS5 as it did in 12 weeks for the PS4.

“You would hear shortages of PlayStation 5 because there’s more demand than supply,” the analyst said.

It’s not due to supply disruptions as “they have been able to recover from the … supply-side shortages that they were facing early on because most of the assemblies are happening in China and most of the supply chains have recovered almost entirely in China.”

“Demand is so strong for the product that that will keep the news flow that this product is sold out in most places for a while,” Goyal added.

Coronavirus impact

The video game sector has been among the few that have benefited from more people staying at home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. That has raised questions over the sustainability of that bounce in a post-pandemic environment.

“The increase of gaming that we have seen partly is because of stay home, not just working from home, but vacationing from home where people are not traveling, and even the weekends you stay home,” Goyal pointed out. “This increase, part of that will be reverted as and when Covid goes away, and in my base case it doesn’t go away entirely until the end of 2021.”

Still, he said some of these habits that have changed as a result of the pandemic “could last longer.”

“We’re not factoring in (the) next five, six years of Covid-driven earnings increase. What we are factoring is Playstation 5-driven upside, driven by digital sales,” the analyst added.

Looking beyond Sony’s gaming business, which accounts for a sizable chunk of its operating income, Goyal said the firm’s music business is “also spectacular” while its image sensing business is also set to recover.

“All in all, this is one of the best companies that we have seen in our coverage,” he said. “Businesses in these three areas are all duopoly or oligopoly, and Sony’s a leader in all of them, with meaningful growth ahead.”

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Boeing (BA) earnings Q3 2020 results: Another rough quarter

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