SBJ/January 9-15, 2012/In Depth

The front nine

What to watch in golf in 2012

FedEx renewal

The tour’s foremost umbrella sponsor has been there since day one of the FedEx Cup and its season-ending playoffs, but that deal runs out this year. Now that the tour has solidified its future with new nine-year TV deals with CBS and NBC, it can turn its attention to FedEx, which pays $30 million to $35 million a year for its deal, according to industry estimates. An extension with its biggest partner would be a crowning moment for the tour’s red-hot sales and marketing department.

Abe Madkour and Michael Smith on issues facing golf in 2012.

Digital decision
Turner’s six-year deal for the PGA Tour’s digital rights expires at the end of 2012, putting the tour in an intriguing position. It can renew with Turner and keep its familiar format with PGATour.com, embark on its own with a new model to keep the rights in-house, or outsource digital rights to a network TV partner, NBC/Golf Channel or CBS, which used to have the digital rights before Turner came along. The tour’s new TV deals allow for live broadcast rights to be activated by the digital partner, and talks around those rights will be critical to determining the tour’s digital future.

LPGA stateside
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Despite the stinging loss of the 36-year-old tournament in Springfleid, Ill., the LPGA has maintained its focus on adding new domestic events. While the LPGA appropriately advertises itself as golf’s global tour, and enjoys considerable momentum in Asia, the tour needs a stronger presence in the U.S. Look for the LPGA to add three to four tournaments to the 2012 calendar, including a couple of domestic events.

Nationwide search
Nationwide Insurance comes off the title of the PGA Tour’s developmental series at season’s end, and the tour has been on the streets trying to sell the $10 million-a-year property since early last year. Look for the tour to integrate more PGA Tour assets into the package to make it more attractive.

Youth is served
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Lexi Thompson took the LPGA by storm last year as a 16-year-old, using her outstanding play to essentially strong-arm the tour into making an age exception for her. Then what does she do? Thompson starts off the Ladies European Tour with a win in Dubai, making her the youngest winner on either tour. As a full-time member of the LPGA this year, Thompson has the game and the style to become the U.S. tour’s biggest and brightest star at a time when the domestic audience craves for more American stars.

Rolex vs. Omega
The two timekeepers have upped the ante in golf with new player and governing body deals. Rolex made a splash in October by signing an endorsement deal with Tiger Woods to go along with its other ambassadors in golf and its U.S. Golf Association sponsorship. Omega launched its own marketing efforts with a PGA of America deal in July that will run five years. Those rights include the Ryder Cup in Chicago this fall, where Omega will back the U.S. team and Rolex will sponsor Team Europe. It will be fun to watch how these competitors activate.

International flavor
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Just look around: The PGA Tour has new working relationships in Canada and Latin America. Its player of the year, Luke Donald, is an Englishman (by the way, he’s the European Tour player of the year, too). In Asia, the tours are falling all over themselves to capture that new audience. Tiger Woods is skipping one of his favorite courses, San Diego’s Torrey Pines, to open the season in Abu Dhabi. And, believe it or not, there’s not a single American man in the top five of the world rankings for the first time in 17 years. The global nature of the game has never been more apparent.

Golf sales trends
The golf industry received welcome news in 2011 that, through the first three quarters, sales for apparel and equipment were up a combined 3.7 percent, according to Golf Datatech, which tracks results at retail. While sales are still well below pre-recession levels, the year’s growth has retailers encouraged that the bounceback will continue in 2012. One of the largest growth areas was drivers, which also happen to be some of the highest-priced golf items. Spurred by new product launches by TaylorMade and Titleist, overall driver sales were up 17.1 percent in dollars and 4.2 percent in units.

Will Tiger roar again?
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As much as golf’s stakeholders want to see the old Tiger Woods re-emerge, those days are gone. He’ll never be the old Tiger, and maybe that’s a good thing. If a more personable, likable character can evolve out of his scandalous past, one who can hit fairways and drop putts like the old version, Tiger might again have the same “rising tide lifts all boats” effect on golf.
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