Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

The (Sports Marketing) World Is Flat: Navigating the Sponsorship Waters

In TSMWIF on August 23, 2008 at 5:18 pm
There are a lot of opportunities for brands at live golf events like The Barclays

There are a lot of opportunities for brands at live golf events like The Barclays

I went to the Barclays golf tournament today, the first time I’ve been to a legitimate pro golf event. It was an interesting experience and provoked a lot of lively conversation with my friend Eelco van der Noll, who works for Momentum, a global marketing agency.

In no particular order, here were some of topics we discussed:

There seemed to be a lot of sponsors of the event, including MasterCard and Gillette (two clients of my agency, Taylor) as well as many brands that we using the tournament as a hospitality opporunity (including another Taylor client, Diageo). There seemed to be a lot of opportunities for branding and it was interesting to see how the different brands utilized the various tournament elements.

I was really intrigued by how close you can be to the competitors during play. At one point, we were no more than 10 feet from Rory Sabbatini as he blasted out of a fairway bunker on 13. We could he every word of his discussion with his caddie and were perfectly place to watch his brilliant shot out of the sand. Unless you’re Jack Nicholson at a Lakers game, or a crazy fan on the side of the road on Alpe d’Huez, I don’t know of many other sporting events where you’re going to be that close to elite level professional athletes. I was really intrigued by this idea – how you could follow one golfer over all 18 holes or hunker down at one hole and watch all the golfers. It’s so different than going to a NASCAR race, NFL or MLB game.  This seems to me to be an area of differentiation that needs to be exploited.

Another interesting observation was the sponsorship of caddies. Sabbatini’s caddy was wearing a Crocs hat, shirt and shoes (Crocs also had a tent on site to introduce some of their new products).  This seemed like a pretty clever move. If a golfer wins a tournament, the shot that often makes the papers and broadcast highlights is the golfer hugging his caddy. You can be in that shot for a lot less by sponsoring the caddy. Eelco raised the point, if you were paying big money to sponsor the golfer, would you also insist that his caddy wear your branded apparel? Interesting question.

Another interesting aspect of this particular tournament is that it is part of the FedEx Cup, the four-tournament end of season Championship that was instituted last year. Eelco and I had several questions here:

  • Does the FedEx Cup help, or hurt, those final four tournaments?
  • Does the Barclays (and the other three tournaments invovled) have any say in the creation of this “playoff” series?
  • What affect would it have on the Barclays if the playoff sponsor were to have a major scandal? Would the Barclays brand be tarnished by association?
  • What if FedEx drops out in a couple of years and Chase or Citi take over the playoff series? Does Barclays have an opportunity to veto, or do they have to move their event to another spot in the calendar?

There was a good deal of “clutter” overall, but also a lot of opportunitites. Live golf seems ripe for a re-thinking as a sponsorship platform. It will be interesting to see which brand or perhaps sports marketing agency will change the game.

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