SBJ/January 9-15, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

New rules: Rolex now full sponsor at USGA

Rolex, which signed Tiger Woods to be one of its ambassadors in October, has deepened its presence in golf with a new eight-year sponsorship of the U.S. Golf Association.

Rolex has had an association with the USGA since the 1980s when it began sponsoring the print publications, such as the rule book. Rolex over the years has added its clocks to the practice areas and first tees at USGA major championships, including the U.S. Open, and in the late ’80s started sponsoring a Monday night dinner hosted by Arnold Palmer the week of the Open for Rolex player ambassadors and USGA officials.

Rolex, sponsor of USGA publications since the 1980s, is now a full corporate partner.
But Rolex never before was designated as a full corporate partner until this agreement was signed in recent weeks. The deal will run through 2019 and puts Geneva, Switzerland-based Rolex on the same sponsorship tier with the USGA’s most prominent partners, American Express, IBM and Lexus.

Barry Hyde, the USGA’s chief marketer, called the deal the longest the association has ever signed. Most partnerships run four to five years.

“Rolex’s involvement in golf goes back almost 50 years when it first started its relationship with Arnold Palmer,” Hyde said. “Golf is the centerpiece of what they do in sports marketing.”

In addition to its support of the USGA’s print publications, including the U.S. Open annual, Rolex sponsors the “Rule of the Day” segment at usga.org. Rolex is making copies of the 2012 rule book available for free from the USGA’s website.

At the U.S. Open, Rolex will have full promotional rights, hospitality and tickets in the corporate partner village, and global use of the USGA and U.S. Open marks in its print and broadcast advertising.

There also has been talk of Rolex sponsoring with the USGA a new international competition this year, but details of that were not available.

“To become an official partner of the USGA is a proud step for Rolex,” Rolex CEO Gian Riccardo Marini said. “The integrity of the game, its timeless appeal and respect for the rules of golf are shared values for our organizations.”

Rolex’s deal with the USGA comes at a time when the luxury timepiece category is bubbling over with player deals and new property agreements.

Rolex also has arrangements with the Royal & Ancient, which gives it marketing rights to the British Open and the Ryder Cup, as well as a deep association with the LPGA. Its player endorsement deals include Woods, Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Paul Casey, Phil Mickelson, Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Rickie Fowler, Camilo Villegas, Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer and Trevor Immelman.

“I can’t think of a company that is more globally and passionately associated with golf,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director. “Rolex’s support permeates the core of golf, beyond championships and players, to the rules, history and etiquette.”

Omega also has made a big bet in golf with a new sponsorship at the PGA of America, which will give it rights to the Ryder Cup. It also has deals with Sergio Garcia and Michelle Wie.

Another luxury Swiss watchmaker, Audemars Piguet, counts the last two U.S. Open champs, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, among its ambassadors, along with Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Cristie Kerr and Morgan Pressel.

“The luxury timepiece category certainly recognizes the importance of golf and the audience that comes with it,” Hyde said. “It’s also about the Rolex circle of jewelers as well.”

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