How Social Media Has Changed the Face of Golf Forever
SOCIAL media has changed the face of golf forever. It is hardly surprising when you understand that the likes of Ian Poulter has a staggering 2.1m Twitter followers hanging on his every utterance, while Rory McIlroy has 3.2m followers.
And when Rickie Fowler won the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December he wasted no time telling his one million-plus followers on both Instagram and Snapchat all about his success, while giving a mention to the new Cobra F8 driver he used that week. Justin Rose frequently uses his social media accounts to sing the praises of TaylorMade’s latest equipment releases.
In the main, it is all used to the good. Even stuffy old golf clubs have finally cottoned on to the fact that in the year 2018 they need to have somebody on the premises who is au fait with all this new-fangled technology if they are to keep people up-to-date with what’s going on. It is no longer enough to just sit back and wait for people to turn up.
There are still many clubs who continue to live in the dark ages, of course – if you doubt it, spend a few moments checking out some random golf club websites and prepared to be horrified at just how bad they are. Nobody updates them, there are no images of the courses or clubhouse, little or no details of the food and drink that is available. It is almost as if they don’t want visitors coming anywhere near their sacred turf. And, sadly, in many cases that is precisely why the websites are so poor – they know that they have to go through the motions, but the idea of welcoming strangers is an anathema to them.
If only they took the time to analyse what can be achieved through social media.
Let’s spend some time looking at Fowler. For his sponsors, he is a dream. He engages with his fans, loves his Mum, he looks the part, he doesn’t throw temper tantrums and he talks well. It is little wonder then that Cobra, Mercedes and Red Bull, to name but three, have signed him up. Just imagine what will happen to both the size of his social media following and his bank balance should the 29-year-old American ever win a major.
"Rickie is an interesting case,” say Forbes, the wealth magazine. "He's different from everybody else, certainly from a style standpoint, and you can credit Puma. He became a very marketable golfer before he had a lot of success on the course. But he was a good-looking guy that Puma dressed in a very noticeable way, and that drew lots of attention and helped him to attract a fan base and led to more deals."
In the women’s game, the social media star in Lexi Thompson, who has been managed by Blue Giraffe Sports and Bobby Kreusler since she was just 15 years old. He knew that Thompson possessed something special when he saw her playing in the US Women’s Open when she was just 12 years old.
“Lexi was born with the ‘it factor’. She has always had it,” Kreusler says. She has almost one million followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and she knows how to use it. If you doubt it, check out our biography on Twitter. It currently reads: "21 year-old @RedBull @CobraGolf @PUMAgolf @Zurich @Rolex @LPGA @Lexus @Smuckers golfer, gym rat, family oriented girl out living my dream.” In case you are in any doubt, all those companies she mentions pay her to use and endorse their products.
Forbes say that the likes of Fowler and Thompson owe their off-course success to Arnold Palmer, a golfer who turned himself into a brand early in his career and was still earning tens of millions of dollars ever year when he died in 2016 at the age of 87. He was, of course, an incredibly successful golfer who won 95 tournaments, including seven majors. He possessed charisma in spades and the public loved him – and not just golf fans.
"What Palmer did was absolutely revolutionary,” says Forbes. "The athlete never had the power. They were always under the thumb. In team sports, it was always under the thumb of the owner, and from an endorsement standpoint these guys never really took control of the narrative and how they were portrayed. IMG and Palmer together did that with him, and it created a financial empire.”
Social media now presents a platform for golfers to sell themselves and interact with their followers, although it is interesting to note that although McIlroy has 3.2 million followers, he actually followers fewer than 400 people himself.
In Forbes’ most recent list of the world’s 100 highest-paid athletes, five were golfers, and four of those were in the top 25. Rory McIlroy (in sixth place with $50m) heads the list, followed by Phil Mickelson (12th, $43.5 million), Tiger Woods (17th, $37.11 million), Jordan Spieth (21st, $34.5 million), and Dustin Johnson (48th, $27.6 million). Remember that those figures represent their annual earnings, on and off the course. Of those players, the only one who made more in prize money that endorsements is Johnson. It is no coincidence that he is also the one you would never describe as somebody who has been over-endowed with charisma.
Through endorsements alone, McIlroy made $34 million, Mickelson $40 million, Woods $37 million, Spieth $29 million and Johnson $11 million.
“The term ‘brand’ is overused because not every player has an opportunity to have a genuine brand," Kreusler said. "Every player has an opportunity to create their own unique personality and identity, but a brand is a higher level of achievement and success."
"Golfers have a tremendous opportunity, because they are individual contractors,” according to Forbes. "It's also an extremely global sport. So these guys have opportunities to cut deals where marketing will be used around the world. That's not something that exists in baseball or the NFL, so Nike can use a guy like Rory McIlroy throughout the world, which allows Rory to command a much bigger sum than he would if he was playing in a sport that's popular only in one country. And the demographics are great, because the clientele that watches golf has high disposable income and spends money on equipment and apparel and cars and watches and does a lot of financial services. So that makes these guys terrific walking billboards when they're out on the course on Sundays.”
Last year, Nike announced an extension with McIlroy reportedly worth $100 million over 10 years. Weeks later, McIlroy and TaylorMade announced an equipment deal of similar magnitude.
Spieth is still only 24 and is easily the youngest golfer on the Forbes list. Before he won The Masters in 2015, Spieth signed a 10-year contract with Under Armour that earned him tens of millions of dollars. But be under no illusions – Under Armour knew that they were onto a winner with a golfer who has since gone on to win three majors.
"From the start, even before he became a professional, we saw the talent, but we also saw a kid with great character and a solid background," said Ryan Kuehl, Under Armour's VP of sports marketing and sponsorships. "His overall persona and makeup is what really drew us in — and has clearly drawn the sports world in as well. We knew that this was the kind of guy we wanted on our team."
Spieth won The Masters and US Open and became world number one, and last year added The Open to his collection, and all of this was achieved while dressed from head to toe in Under Armour clothing and golf shoes, with the company’s logo prominently displayed. His contract stipulates that he cannot wear the logo of any other company on his person, although is golf bag is a different matter. Under Armour admit that keeping Spieth has not been cheap but he has helped the brand to become the most successful clothing label in the game, and it helps that whenever he posts images on his social media sites it is always while wearing Under Armour clothing. So everybody is happy.
So the next time you check out the latest social media post from your favourite golfer, take a moment to consider the message he or she is really trying to get across. The chances are that it will all be about product placement – the genius is that you will not be in the least offended by it.
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