SBJ/Jan. 6-12, 2014/In Depth

The Front 9: Issues to watch in golf in 2014

Agency changes
Lagardère shook up the golf world with several aggressive moves to expand its golf business, including the acquisition of Crown Sports Management. Former IMG executive Andy Pierce is said to be “getting the old gang back together” by hiring Charley Moore to work on consulting and Jay Danzi as an agent, among other former IMGers. By bringing in Crown’s Mac Barnhardt and Jimmy Johnston, Lagardère immediately becomes one of the most powerful agencies in the sport. Putting it all together was the easy part. Pierce’s toughest task remains ahead of him in 2014 as he begins to integrate all of the agents under one umbrella, especially considering that most of them are veterans who are set in their ways. Lagardère’s growth comes at a time when the agency landscape is undergoing major shifts. Wasserman Golf is a much bigger player domestically and is looking to grow more internationally. The sale of IMG to WME is expected to propel IMG’s player representation business. And CAA Golf, under co-heads Billy McGriff and Ben Gannett, continues to have a strong roster of consulting clients on the sponsor side. Will consolidation be the trend in 2014?

Tiger’s portfolio
For all of the evidence that Tiger Woods is back competitively, there’s little to suggest that Woods has regained even
Photo by: Getty Images
a modicum of his endorsement power. His most ardent backer, Nike, remains his most lucrative sponsor in a deal valued at more than $20 million a year, but he still hasn’t overcome the loss of blue-chip sponsors like Accenture, AT&T, Buick and Gatorade. With a sponsor list that now includes Rolex, Japan-based manufacturer Kowa, and Fuse, his bag sponsor, Woods’ portfolio looks meek compared to the old days. That doesn’t mean Woods is going broke. He still commands $2 million to $3 million in appearance money to play in tournaments overseas, while other players receive low-to-mid six figures. With Tiger’s game back at the top, would a major championship in 2014 get his endorsement game back on track?

LPGA growth
LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan and his team have given new life to the ladies tour. When Whan came in four years ago, the tour was struggling with 23 events. Since then, the LPGA has expanded to 32 events, its total prize money in 2014 will be at an all-time high of $56 million, and the International Crown team event is set to launch with its inaugural event this year. What’s more, the LPGA is on its way to establishing a seasonlong points system to determine an annual champion. Don’t expect a FedExCup-style playoff at the end of the season, but the points will be awarded for performance, and the points system presents a unique umbrella sponsorship opportunity for the LPGA to sell.

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Brandel’s buzz

The next time Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee sits on the set of “Live From” during a major championship, will he be the same outspoken and candid observer he’s been in the past or will he take a more conservative approach after his dust-up with Tiger Woods? In the fall Chamblee, writing as a Golf.com columnist, gave the world’s No. 1-ranked player an “F” for the season because of a series of rules incidents. As is often the case in golf, where TV analysts border on cheerleaders, the backlash was swift. Tiger’s agent, Mark Steinberg, even suggested a legal response for Chamblee’s sharp criticism, and Chamblee apologized. Chamblee, a former PGA Tour player, has brought a refreshing perspective to his analysis of golf on TV. It would be a shame if Tiger’s stare-down works and Chamblee backs off his opinionated approach.

Master of its domain
Berckmans Place at Augusta National, a spectacular 100,000-square-foot permanent structure, has turned into the new standard in on-course hospitality. Weekly badges, going for $6,000 apiece, quickly sold out two years ago and the club already is looking at ways to expand. Word is that four restaurants within the structure were up and running last year, and Berckmans has the capability to expand to seven different restaurants with their own unique menus. Given the way Augusta National has bought up so much real estate around the southwest perimeter of the club, near Berckmans Road, the question going into 2014 is when will they break ground on their next version of Berckmans, and what will that mean to all of the outside agencies that run weeklong hospitality along Washington Road?

PGA perspective
PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua took about a day to settle into his new job a year ago, and then went about shaking up the association like few before him. So what does he have planned for an encore? At the top of the list is the PGA’s exploration for an overseas site to hold a future PGA Championship. Taking the season’s final major outside of the U.S. seemed like a far-fetched notion when Bevacqua first proposed it, but more and more it appears that he and President Ted Bishop plan to go through with the idea, which would give the PGA an international presence and appeal that it’s never had before. More new events are said to be up Bevacqua’s sleeve in 2014, and we can expect them to take the PGA into uncharted ground, based on year one.

Open madness
The U.S. Golf Association will hold its two biggest championships, the men’s and women’s U.S. Open, at the same site for the first time this year. Historic Pinehurst No. 2 will be the venue for this USGA first. Most notably on the business side, the back-to-back Opens will enable the USGA’s hospitality sales to be combined across both events, providing guests with premium access for both tournaments. Interestingly, the USGA has not planned any further men’s and women’s doubles like this in the future. This year also will provide something of a referendum on holding a major championship outside of a major market in the post-recession era. Pinehurst is more than an hour from Raleigh and Charlotte, and finding enough corporate housing might be a challenge.

Golf Boys
Golfers have been known for their mostly emotionless and conservative approach to publicity. Social media is
changing that. Two social media sensations involving golfers took off last year, Dufnering and the Golf Boys, which revealed that golfers do have an actual personality. Additionally, Twitter has become a valuable — and sometimes volatile — outlet for golfers. Lee Westwood took on his detractors in one memorable early morning rant last year, while Ian Poulter has used Twitter to help market his line of clothing. However golfers choose to express themselves, social media has become a window into the personality and perspective of the pro golfer, a place that was rarely accessible before.

Give and take
ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” took the PGA Tour and its events to task for not giving enough money to charity. Just as the tour is about the celebrate hitting the $2 billion mark in total giving early this season, critics say the percentage of contributions compared to the tour’s total revenue doesn’t add up. Now that the tour has been put on high alert, how will it react? Will tournaments, which are run by local organizing groups with their own budgets, be pressured to give more? Or will they continue to operate with the autonomy to give as they see fit? Each tournament is different. Some reinvest heavily in their own events, but a byproduct of that is that donations take a hit. Meanwhile, charities often benefit from the free exposure provided by a major sporting event in their backyard. Either way, this issue has been put front and center and isn’t likely to go away in 2014.

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