The first major of the year is probably the most popular, being played early in the year and always at the gorgeous and one-of-a-kind Augusta National Golf Club. It has its own cultural niche within golf, with CBS’s Jim Nance intoning his famous “a tradition unlike any other” over the Masters’ piano theme music, against a backdrop of azaleas and birdsong.
All of this makes for a huge TV draw, and that spells opportunity for sponsors. The Masters tournament and TV coverage is sponsored exclusively by AT&T, IBM and Exxon Mobil. Historically, the CEOs of the major sponsors and other large corporations have been offered memberships at Augusta, the most exclusive golf club in the country. Earlier this year, IBM appointed Virginia Rometty as CEO. This touched off a controversy, as Augusta has a males-only membership policy. Would Augusta decline to offer a membership to the CEO of a prime sponsor, just because she is a woman? Would IBM still sponsor the Masters if its CEO was shut out of membership at Augusta?
We don’t know, and might never know, if Rometty has been offered membership. Augusta Chairman Billy Payne is consistently (and conveniently) applying his policy of not commenting on or revealing member names. No one from IBM will comment because they can’t risk losing the Masters deal. Augusta famously requires everyone to be in line, and will ban anyone — fan, member, commentator or even sponsor — who isn’t cooperative. This is probably the most backward sponsor-event relationship in sports, where the event makes demands of the sponsors, not the other way around.
This is also prime time for sponsors of players, who pay hundreds of thousands or millions for individual logo placements on pro golfers’ apparel. Tiss Dahan of Adidas Golf claims that “a single shirt worn by one of our athletes on a Sunday afternoon winning a tournament can raise sales 10 percent.” Players can get huge bonuses from their sponsors for winning major tournaments, in return for the massive exposure. A few years ago, little-known Zach Johnson was a surprise winner at the Masters. One of his prime apparel sponsors was accounting firm McGladrey, not exactly a household name, but received TV exposure to an audience level equivalent to World Series.
Sponsorship fees start at six figures and run up into the millions and are all about the camera angles. Hats are costly, but are usually part of a larger package including clubs, balls, bag and apparel. Sometimes pros separately will sell the front of the cap, the most valuable part. The sleeve is the next most valuable, with a difference based on dominant hand. The left arm faces the target, and often the camera, when the golfer is stationary and addressing the ball. Chest pockets and collars also command high prices. Less common and cheaper are accessories like shoes and even belt buckles. Here’s a great article that includes how much even unknown rookies can make.
This weekend, settle down with the family and enjoy (or distract them with) the Masters, and as the leaders make the historic walk down the 18th, keep an eye out for those logos.
Bill Sayer is a financial analyst in the insurance industry and holds a degree in economics. A native of Upstate New York, Bill enjoys watching college football, the NFL, NHL and Premier League soccer from his home in Palmyra. Have a suggestion, link or question?