SBJ/September 30 - October 6, 2002/Marketingsponsorship

Wilson throwing $3M behind golf ball named Jack

Wilson Sporting Goods is putting at least $3 million behind the innovative marketing of its new Jack golf ball, starting around the new year. The company has high hopes that the lower-priced ball, at $15.99 a dozen, will win back some of the strong market share it had in that category as recently as a few years ago.

It's a cluttered category, with entries from well-known brands Pinnacle, Titleist and Top-Flite and more recent entrant Nike among the top sellers, according to Golf DataTech. Wilson has a single-digit market share, down from 13 percent or 14 percent a few years ago, the company said.

In this context, Wilson seeks to differentiate itself through an edgy campaign aimed at recreational golfers in non-golf settings — NCAA sports broadcasts, ESPN's "SportsCenter" and radio, Maxim magazine, etc. It's summed up in the tag line, "If you think there's a more exciting ball in golf, you don't know Jack."

"This is a major shift in strategy for us," said Tom Gruger, Wilson's business director for golf balls. "What we're trying to do is go back and recapture a portion of the ball business where Wilson should be the strongest, the recreational player market, the guy who loves to play golf but has a lot of other interests as well."

Gruger said the ad message goes out of its way to avoid the technical, high-brow approach of other brands. Euro RSCG Tatham worked with the company on a range of marketing materials that accentuate the irreverent. In one 30-second spot, a golfer with an average swing literally "hits the crap" out of the ball, to the dismay of one of his playing partners, who unwisely made noise during the golfer's address.

The thick Scottish brogue used in the voice-over just adds to the humor. "We're trying to push the envelope a little," Gruger said. "We want a message that resonates like it's your buddy talking to you."

Among the point-of-sale marketing materials is a clever, full-color 16-page brochure explaining "The Do's and Don't's of Throwing Your Clubs," "Safely Alerting the Beer Cart" and other on-course requisites. Gruger said grassroots promotional efforts will run to the nontraditional as well, with tie-ins being discussed with "Jack" brands such as Cracker Jack, Jack Daniel's and others.

There will be a strong push via a new site, wilson.com/jack, Gruger said, with sweepstakes and other efforts.

Gruger said most of the ad budget has not been spent, and early sales results this fall will dictate whether Wilson exceeds its $3 million minimum.

84 LUMBER SNAGS SPONSORSHIP: When the PGA Tour said it was hoping to fill out its tournament sponsor roster by targeting companies in tournament cities — not long-distance sponsors — that could take advantage of local marketing opportunities, it must have had 84 Lumber in mind.

The national lumber brand announced recently a four-year deal with the tour to sponsor the 84 Lumber Classic of Pennsylvania at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa in Farmington, a stone's throw from company headquarters in the town of Eighty Four.

The geography makes sense. So does the fact that the privately and closely held company also owns the resort. The economies are clear: Part of the $2 million to $3 million sponsorship fee typically goes back to the host course, so 84 Lumber can save that expense. All the exposure given to the resort course during the ESPN-televised event is for the greater good of the company, headed by Joe Hardy and his daughter Maggie.

The company has always wanted to host a tournament, said Bud Martin, senior vice president at SFX Sports, which will manage and promote the tournament. "With the evolution of the course and the Nemacolin Resort, which doubled its room capacity, we always had a tournament on our radar screen, and with the changing economy making it more difficult [for the tour] to find sponsors, we felt it was the perfect model."

PGA Tour pro and SFX client John Daly has an endorsement deal with 84 Lumber. Martin said 84 Lumber has been very satisfied with that relationship.

The television ad commitment, which ranges from $2 million to $3 million for tour events, will be a departure for 84 Lumber, which has tended to spend its marketing money on relationships with contractors, Martin said. The company has 436 stores in 34 states, so the buy isn't unwise, he said.

The tournament replaces the SEI Pennsylvania Classic and will be played in mid-September.

AWARDS SHOW SIGNS NEXTEL: Producer Intersport has added Nextel as a sponsor of the annual "Arete Honors for Courage in Sports" show, to be broadcast Nov. 3 on CBS. The terms were not disclosed. Nextel joins returning sponsors State Farm Insurance and the U.S. Marine Corps

FATHERS AND SONS: The Office Depot Father/Son Challenge has added Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros and their sons to its field this year. The mid-December event, televised on NBC, has traditionally attracted big names, such as Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd, Lee Trevino and Gary Player. Floyd has won the tournament five times in its seven years, three times with son Raymond Jr. and twice with son Robert. IMG produces the event; Senior Vice President Alastair Johnston calls it "the one event we do where players are more than anxious to play."

Noah Liberman can be reached at nliberman@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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