SBJ/June 13-19, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Polo dresses up U.S. Open merchandise sales

The stately gazebo with custom latticework is the first sign that this isn’t the standard U.S. Open merchandise pavilion.

MARTIN MILLER
Polo is making its presence at Congressional known with a 36,000-square-foot pavilion.
In its first year as the U.S. Golf Association’s apparel partner, Polo Ralph Lauren is dressing up the place this week at Congressional.

“I’ve been doing this 17 years and this is the most exciting thing we’ve done to merchandising,” said Mary Lopuszynski, the USGA’s senior director of merchandising and licensing.

Polo has long had a presence in the sport, mostly through putting its Polo Golf brand on stars like Tom Watson, Davis Love III and, more recently, Luke Donald, the world’s No. 1-ranked player going into the U.S. Open. The apparel giant also has been on big stages before, such as the Ryder Cup, U.S. Open tennis championship and the Olympics, so it knows how to play the premier events.

Polo is taking that experience to the U.S. Open golf championship this week with a redesigned 36,000-square-foot merchandise pavilion, new styles that commemorate the U.S. Open, and an upscale feel to the shopping experience inside a tent that looks nothing like a temporary structure.

In all, 30 tractor trailers were used to ship fixtures to Congressional, just outside of Washington, D.C., including woodwork and millwork accents that will create the feel of a Ralph Lauren store.

“It’s not quite like one of our stores, but you’ll be able to tell that our fingerprints are all over it,” said Tom Nolan, senior vice president of golf and tennis for Polo Ralph Lauren. “It’s certainly a great retail shopping environment … and it gives us a chance to reach our customers in a unique way.”

In addition to providing at least half of the product for the pavilion, Polo will be outfitting 5,500 volunteers, more than 300 USGA staffers and about 1,100 USGA committee members on-site. Adidas, Nike, Ashworth and other golf apparel makers will have space in the pavilion, as well. The structure is located next to the 17th hole, near the main entrance for spectators.

Polo Ralph Lauren’s history in golf

1987 —
Polo Golf is introduced.

1993 — Polo Ralph Lauren signs Tom Watson, Davis Love III and Jeff Sluman to wear Polo Golf.

1994 — Polo Golf adds Justin Leonard to its stable of golfers.

2002 — Luke Donald joins the Polo Ralph Lauren team to wear the RLX brand.

2006 — Polo outfits the U.S. Ryder Cup team, captained by Tom Lehman, in Ireland.

2006 — Morgan Pressel becomes the first female golfer to join Polo Ralph Lauren.

2010 — Polo signs Webb Simpson, Matteo Manassero and golf instructor Todd Anderson.

2011 — Polo Ralph Lauren signs a five-year agreement with the U.S. Golf Association to be the official apparel outfitter for the U.S. Open, a deal that includes designing the merchandise pavilion.

Source: Polo Ralph Lauren

Considering that the five-year agreement was signed in October, the Polo Ralph Lauren sports marketing team has scurried to get the volunteers and staff outfitted and the pavilion designed. Terms of the deal were not released, but Polo does not pay a traditional sponsorship fee to the USGA. Polo’s expenses are built into the construction and design of the merchandise pavilion.

The company said that it is advertising in Golf Digest and The New York Times, but it does not plan a media buy on the tournament’s broadcast partner, NBC.

“We’ve made a significant investment in the marketing and activation to link our brand with golf,” said Nolan, who emphasized that the USGA relationship is not intended to be a one-week initiative around the Open.

While this week’s tournament marks the formal launch of the deal, there will be tentacles that market Open merchandise the other 51 weeks, as well. That was the case last week when a Bloomingdale’s catalog featured Donald on the cover. Donald made an appearance at Bloomingdale’s in New York last week to generate publicity for the new line of Open apparel, as well as the RLX brand that he promotes.

“We’ve had the pavilion approach for a long time, but with Polo we’re going to be able to expand what we’re doing,” Lopuszynski said. “Instead of focusing on one week, now we’ll have a marketing focus the rest of the year. It’s more of a true brand alignment [with Polo] than we’ve ever had. What we have here at the pavilion is a tremendous improvement on the presentation and the product, but we’re now thinking about how we’re going to reach people at other times of the year.”

The USGA does not release its sales figures from the Open, but Lopuszynski said the 2008 event at Torrey Pines was the biggest seller. The following year at Bethpage was tracking close to those same numbers before bad weather struck the event. Last year’s tournament at Pebble Beach did not feature a large pavilion because of the agreement with the resort.

More than 100,000 transactions are normal in years the U.S. Open has a pavilion, and hats are usually the best seller. The pavilion will have 52 terminals for checkouts and 1,200 volunteers.

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