I just read a fascinating article on MyGolfSpy about the contracts touring professionals have with equipment manufacturers.
In the article, the question was posed “What would happen if there were no equipment contracts?”
What if they could play any equipment they wanted whenever they wanted?
There is a study performed on the first tee of every prominent golf event played every week called the Darrell Survey.
A recording person stands at the first tee and makes an inventory list of every piece of equipment every contestant carries with him/her on to the course. Every club, grip, shaft, putter, wedge, ball, umbrella, shoe, apparel etc. is noted by this independent marketing company in business since 1932.
More recently, the Darrell Survey has completed an annual consumer report, compiling equipment choices of average golfers on public and private golf courses from countries worldwide. The Darrell Survey Company calls itself an “impartial arbiter of equipment usage” that performs its services all around the world.
This little company originated as a husband and wife enterprise, providing actual information about equipment put into play by tournament players, which of course is vital to the equipment companies.
However, what if the PGA Tour had a rule that stated its ownership of all advertising adorning a player and/or caddie any time said player was on the course in a PGA event? Other professional sports do it.
The NFL, NBA, NHL etc owners own advertising rights on the field. Why not golf?
Further, suppose there was a universal golf ball, set of clubs or even a uniform with names on the back all owned by the PGA Tour? Hockey has one brand of puck and a uniform. Football has one brand of ball and a uniform. Tennis has one ball, as does baseball.
Why not golf?
Of course, that dog won’t hunt. The standard has been set for too long and the players are individual contractors. That doesn’t preclude having a one-ball rule, but that’s another topic.
Large equipment manufacturers and apparel suppliers know that having professional athletes, entertainers and similar famous public figures endorse their wares is worthwhile.
Don’t think for a minute these deals aren’t lucrative, although it varies depending on if the logo is on the hat, left sleeve, chest pocket, back collar. It’s no secret that Tiger and Rory McIlroy’s deals with Nike, before it got out of hard goods, were astronomical.
Why is this kind of money available? TV exposure equals brand awareness.
Golfers offer a large, prime demographic for companies in terms of age, income, travel, etc., but why spend a lot of advertising dollars when the segment you most are targeting is watching golf on TV, attending a golf tournament or standing on the first tee?
For example, who in their right mind would wear a lightweight, short spiked, expensive deck-style shoe to play golf? Golf shoes are supposed to provide support when walking and swinging. That is, they did until Fred Couples appeared on the Champions Tour wearing Ecco shoes.
Going back a bit, Cobra was a small start-up company who gave Greg Norman took it to a whole new level in sales.
What if players weren’t paid to endorse products?
Titleist had a motto of not paying anyone to play their ball for years and they were still No. 1. Their method was different.
I recall as a young professional playing the annual assistants’ championship. The founding distributor of Titleist in Canada was Mr. Jim Morrison who stood on the first tee wearing a beautiful white sport jacket and tie greeting every player and presenting them with two dozen new golf balls.
What a deal!
The entry fee was $20 and the balls retailed for $15 a dozen. He knew that we were the up and coming future of his business.
If players weren’t paid, who would play which clubs, ball and wear which shoes?
Nike found out there is a lot more to selling golf clubs than contracting the best player. On the other hand, TaylorMade has a huge stable of the best players and is up for sale. In fact, one rumour has Tiger and Rory combining forces with several other players and entering a bid to buy Taylor Made.
Perhaps the major equipment suppliers are huddling together to discuss whether millions of dollars are really worth the investment in endorsements.
In the end, they might all agree to discontinue the practice, but very shortly afterwards, one of them will break the vow because we all wish to be our idols, who we emulate and spend millions of dollars in the hope that because a certain product claims to have helped them be successful, it will similarly help us.
Marketing implies that a given brand is a contributing factor. It has to be the equipment? What other explanation could there be?
Yet, how many golfers do you know who have three or four drivers, a couple of sets of irons and a dozen putters when the limit during a round of golf is 14 clubs?
If the endorsement deals were discontinued, would we still be so excessive?
In the wonderful words of Liberace during his performances when he would ask one of his female patrons, “Don’t you just love my $2-million diamond ring? You should, you helped pay for it.”
Perhaps Tiger will take you for a weekend on his yacht. After all, you helped pay for it.