SBJ/Jan. 24-30, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

How the Ryder Cup finally unified its brand

The organizers of the Ryder Cup have always had their own way of doing things, down to the different logos they use on each side of the Atlantic. But the big pond is about to get a little smaller, figuratively speaking.

U.S. and European officials of the Ryder Cup this week will reveal a unified logo and branding effort that represents the first major step toward a combined commercial effort. The new Ryder Cup shield, created by New York-based Interbrand, will be unveiled at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, and with it comes a cultural shift in the marketing and merchandising around the matches.

“We’ve had sponsors on both sides promoting their affiliation with the event with two different marks,” said Joe Steranka, CEO of the PGA of America. “It didn’t make sense.”

In the past, the European and U.S. sides have used separate logos to represent the biennial golf event, which has led to some confusion among corporate partners. The different logos were the result of the fragmented ownership of the matches. The PGA of America is in charge of the Ryder Cup when it’s played in the U.S., while the European Tour and the PGAs of Great Britain and Ireland run the events on European soil.

Bringing the branding under one unified shield represents a landmark change for the event that started in 1927, and whose caretakers from Europe and the U.S. have always kept their commercial operations separate.

That occasionally leads to category conflict at the Ryder Cup, such as when Mercedes-Benz and BMW were both involved in 2010 at Celtic Manor.
Richard Hills, director of Ryder Cup Europe, compared the move to a unified brand to 1979, when the Great Britain and Ireland team expanded to include players from all of Europe.

“This is a significant juncture for us,” Hills said. “We have a number of companies that express an interest in being involved with the matches and some, like Rolex, that are common partners. For something like the Ryder Cup to have two different marks was difficult to explain. The logical progression of unifying the brand is that we’ll jointly be talking to companies about the matches. We’re not there yet, but certainly this gives us a platform to start.”

It was in January 2009 that the U.S. side and European side gathered for their standard meetings at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. The two sides had already agreed on one joint effort — to have Turner Sports run the official Ryder Cup website for both sides. The next logical extension of their joint efforts, they agreed, was to come up with a single logo and branding plan.

“Fragmentation is the enemy of brand building,” said Ed O’Hara, senior partner and chief creative officer at SME Branding. “It’s smart to unify that.”

Three agencies presented their plan to Cup officials, and Interbrand, a branding specialist led by President David Martin, was selected. After researching the Ryder Cup, Martin presented his plan to unify the brand to match officials on a Thursday night at the 2010 Masters.

Leaders from both sides retired to the PGA’s rented 4,000-square-foot, two-story brick home in West Lake, a gated golf course community in Augusta, Ga. In the family room, Martin talked about a fresh look within a shield that would feature the cup itself while also maintaining the heritage of the event. An Interbrand team of five worked full time on the project over about 18 months.

“It’s a more contemporary mark that will hold up well in digital applications, that’s easy to knit into merchandise and will work in traditional print and signage,” Martin said. “There’s a real authenticity to it.”
It remains to be seen if and when the two sides might start working together on corporate partner programs and other commercial initiatives. They’re so different because of their makeup.

When the PGA of America runs the Ryder Cup in the U.S., it tends to be less commercialized with fewer sponsors activating on-site and on signage. The PGA doesn’t sell official event sponsorships, but instead allows its highest level of sponsors — RBC, American Express, Mercedes-Benz — to call themselves proud supporters. The U.S. players give up their commercial endorsements for a week, so the PGA reasons that it shouldn’t exploit the event.

In Europe, the team is run by the European Tour and the PGAs of Great Britain and Ireland. Because the European Tour holds a financial stake in the event when it’s the home team, the players are essentially financial partners.

The European side does sell official partnerships to the event and allows for more on-site activation. BMW, KPMG, Emirates Airline, Citi and Rolex were among the official partners of the 2010 Ryder Cup.

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