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MKTG Insights: Mastering Golf's Biggest Stage

MKTG Insights: Mastering Golf's Biggest Stage

There are few trophies in sports that are as iconic as “The Green Jacket”. The tradition. The luxury. The talent. All reasons why the sports world tuned into The Masters this weekend in typical record numbers. The Masters is a landmark moment in the golf calendar that commands the attention of a mainstream audience. It is consistently the most viewed golf major of the year, appealing to both casual and avid professional golf fans. However, whereas reach and viewership are typically the driving force behind corporate sponsor interest in a particular property genre, the Masters has remained disciplined in its "minimalist" branding strategy. 

Limited commercial time, a small sponsor roster and virtually no on-course signage (The Masters is the only tournament where caddies do not wear sponsored bibs). Each year, The Masters is questioned for the revenue left on the table for not capitalizing on their platform.  But by avoiding clutter at all costs, tournament organizers have built a brand focused on exclusivity and prestige that is in high-demand for sponsors and consumers. For brands seeking an association with the Masters, few opportunities exist to formally partner at the Tournament level. 

For sponsors, this clutter-free approach means the primary point of entry to a Masters association is through the eyes of the players themselves. In golf, athletes are walking billboards, providing highly focused exposure opportunities to their individual sponsors. In clutter-free environments like The Masters, kit sponsors derive even more value due to the ownership presence they are able to develop. 

So what happens if your athlete is handed the Green Jacket on the 72nd hole at Augusta National. "Masters Winner" is a label that can never be taken away. The value and equity in the label is valuable to sponsors wanting a connection with golf's most famous event. Due to their increased profile, mass appeal, and opportunities for storytelling (human interest stories, increased media attention, etc.) Masters Winners become highly sought after sponsorship targets. 

The “Green Jacket Effect”

MKTG examined past Masters winners and found multiple case studies where golfers brought on new corporate partners or became more heavily featured in campaigns with existing sponsors.

Bubba Watson, Masters Champion (2012, 2014): Before Bubba Watson’s first Masters victory in 2012, he was known to casual golf fans mostly for his long drive and unique first name. While Bubba already had existing sponsorships with golf brands like Ping,  following his victory at Augusta, new brands came calling. In January of 2013, Bubba signed a deal with Oakley to wear their clothing at tournaments. He became heavily featured in their marketing efforts and has earned a featured clothing line available for sale in most mainstream golf retailers. 

Adam Scott, Masters Champion (2013): Adam Scott was known fairly well in his home country of Australia before he won the 2013 Masters. But becoming the first Australian to win at Augusta gave him a significant recognition boost. At the time of the win, Scott represented niche Japanese clothing company UNIQLO, a partnership that was launched the week of Scott's Masters victory.  Following the win, UNIQLO pushed Adam Scott and released creative spots profiling the win and the winning Masters outfit.

Phil Mickelson, Masters Champion (2004, 2006, 2010): Before Phil Mickelson won his first Masters in 2004, he was known as “the best golfer to never win a major”. After finally winning a major championship, "Lefty" began to see his visibility grow. The following year, Mickelson partnered with one of the world’s largest companies in energy brand ExxonMobil. Together, they opened the “Phil Mickelson Teachers Academy” with the objective of making subjects like math and science more attractive to school kids. With Phil's increased profile, he became a logical ambassador as the fact of a CSR program.

Charl Schwartzel, Masters Champion (2011): Charl Schwartzel is a one-time winner of The Masters. The South African golfer's post-Masters earnings are a case study in the immediate sponsor interest bestowed upon a Masters Champion - and the drop-off in sponsor interest that can occur if newfound relevance and success is not sustained. Schwartzel experienced off-course earnings in excess of $2 million in the two year period following his Masters victory, a figure that level-setted as his performance faded and the allure of the Green Jacket wore off.

Whose Personal Brand Benefitted at the 2015 Masters?

MKTG examines the golfers who took advantage of golf's biggest stage, driving value for their current sponsor roster and peaking the interest of prospective brands.

Jordan Spieth: Before The Masters, Repucom reported that Jordan Spieth was known to 20% of the US population - a number that will surely grow after the 21 year-old won at Augusta.. Agents and analysts have said that Spieth can expect to see his off-course earning triple this year. Being 21-years old and winning so convincingly is a signal to marketers that Spieth will have long-time relevance. His Masters win also provided opportunities for brands and consumers to get to know Jordan off the course as his volunteerism and family-orientation was heavily featured. Spieth - an Under Armour athlete - won big for the apparel sponsor. Under Armour had 16 logos on Spieth during the final round. Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Under Armour told ESPN, “Thanks to Jordan, our company grew up today. This is a global event and he’s the leading trending athlete in the world right now.” Luckily for Under Armour, in January they terminated their original four year deal with Spieth and signed him to a new deal until 2025. Another Spieth sponsor, AT&T, released a real-time congratulatory spot in the days following the Tournament. Spieth demonstrated to his roster that he is worth investing in.

Rory McIlroy: Rory McIlroy may not have won this weekend, but off the course he had a big win. As featured in MKTG’s Video of the Week segment, Nike released a spot featuring Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy ahead of the 2015 Masters. The message of the spot was seen by many in the marketing community as a passing of the torch from the Nike golf athlete who made the brand what it is today, Woods, to Nike golf’s next core superstar, McIlroy. In 2014, Rory won two major tournaments and swept all major awards. McIlroy's Nike contract is reportedly worth approximately $200 million - a contract that was validated this year with Rory's success. Intense but likeable, McIlroy's brand is arguably more approachable than Tiger's. Rory also acts as a brand ambassador for Bose, Omega, and Santander.

Tiger Woods: Heading into the Masters there were plenty of questions regarding Tiger Woods. This being his first tournament since February and not having won a tournament in two years, many wondered how he would perform. This uncertainty lead sponsors to worry about Tiger’s marketability.  Before the 2015 Masters, a survey of 40 industry marketers, tournament directors, and media members conducted by Sports Business Daily said that Tiger Woods was still the third most marketable golfer despite his troubles. If Tiger continues to improve, look for his marketability to climb and for sponsor confidence to be restored. 

With the Masters in the books for 2015, expect to see brands building on the storylines originally formed at Augusta, investing more and more resources in the those who shined at golf's most famous tournament. Putting on the Green Jacket gets an athlete into an exclusive club - and can unlock lucrative doors for professional golfers. 

It Ain't Easy Being Green

It Ain't Easy Being Green

MKTG Insights: When Athletes Don’t Attract Sponsor Interest, Creativity is Required

MKTG Insights: When Athletes Don’t Attract Sponsor Interest, Creativity is Required