SBJ/September 1 - 7, 2003/Marketingsponsorship

Cleveland Golf strikes gold with help of little-known endorsers

Cleveland Golf Co. of Cypress, Calif., got a big publicity bonus courtesy of three obscure members of its PGA Tour staff at the Aug. 14-17 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.

The tournament is one of the sport's four majors and draws the interest of golfers worldwide. This year's tourney left Cleveland Golf sitting pretty as its much larger competitors undoubtedly munched antacid tablets.

That's because a pack of virtually unknown Cleveland-sponsored players (Tim Clark, Chad Campbell and winner Shaun Micheel) beat 96 of the top 100 players in the world. Many of those players, such as Tiger Woods (Nike), Ernie Els, Davis Love III and Phil Mickelson (Titleist/Footjoy) and Mike Weir (TaylorMade), are sponsored by companies with marketing budgets that dwarf Cleveland's.

Most sports sponsorships don't need much of a relationship with their properties. Instead, they are designed to reach masses of customers through the properties they sponsor.

Major League Baseball, NBA, NHL, NFL teams and motorsports properties don't give a flip which brands are their official wireless provider, vehicle, beer, soft drink and bank as long as the checks are good and there are solid marketing programs supporting the relationship.

But the golf equipment industry's sponsor/player relationship makes it a tougher environment for sponsors because successful golfers won't play with equipment that doesn't match their needs.

Golf equipment companies need the enthusiastic support of their players. So, the companies must provide good equipment and service. It's also the reason why golf equipment endorsements are a powerful marketing tool if they are promoted properly.

Cleveland Golf pays cash to each of the 39 PGA Tour players on its staff and provides equipment and support through a six-man mobile service operation at tournaments. It leverages the sponsorships of its marquee players through TV spots on event telecasts and the Golf Channel, print advertising in golf magazines, Internet-based promotions, golf shop retail displays and co-op radio ads that may include autograph appearances with Cleveland staff players at big golf retailers.

Cleveland Golf is leveraging its success at the PGA Championship. The company's vice president of communications, Randy Romberg, said Cleveland quickly produced a TV spot promoting Micheel's victory. Congratulatory print advertising in golf industry publications and Internet promotion followed.

There was also ancillary value from the tournament organizer, the PGA of America, which produced a TV spot featuring Micheel that was shown during the next week's CBS broadcast of the NEC World Championships. Romberg told USA Today that he wouldn't be surprised if Cleveland experienced a 10 to 20 percent short-term jump in sales immediately after Micheel's PGA victory.

Cleveland Golf is an established premium brand. But the single biggest benefit of the PGA victory to Cleveland is enhanced street credibility. With only about 7 percent of the market share of drivers and irons, and $100 million in sales, Cleveland can't match the advertising budgets of its bigger competitors.

Cleveland's experience at the PGA Championship is an example of how sports sponsorships are supposed to work. If a brand has a solid sponsorship portfolio, and the organization and resources to take advantage of good things when they happen, a bump in sales and brand power follow.

Mel Poole (mpoole@sportsbusinessjournal.com) is president of consulting and marketing firm SponsorLogic.

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