Who’s your caddie? New network looks behind the bag
A few years ago, veteran branding experts and golf fanatics John von Stade and Merrill Squires took stock of the golf industry and had a light-bulb moment: Why not build a business around the world of PGA Tour caddies, who are as much a part of the game as the pros themselves.
The idea turned into a business plan and this past summer, the two executives launched The Caddie Network, a digital content platform showcasing the caddie life through features, videos, photos, surveys and other content.
The goal of the venture is to give an inside view of the caddie’s experience on the tour while also giving professional caddies a platform to make money though a licensing agreement with the network.
Von Stade, who spent 25 years in the golf business while working for such agencies as Millsport and Velocity, was convinced of the growing business opportunity related to the world of caddies.
“We looked at the market to see if there were legitimate gaps in certain sports verticals,” he said. “I’ve worked on both the buy and sell side and worked with every media company in the golf business and noticed a gap in certain coverage areas. One was caddies.”
Von Stade and Squires, also a veteran agency executive, are founders of Accelerated Growth Partners, a privately held branding agency, and they initially raised about $500,000 to launch The Caddie Network. Another primary investor is Paul Speaker, co-owner of the World Surf League and former NFL executive. The company is looking to raise $2 million in venture capital over the next year.
Key to the network was the buy-in from the caddies. To get them to participate in the venture, The Caddie Network signed a 10-year licensing agreement with the Association of Professional Tour Caddies, which represents more than 100 PGA Tour caddies. The group is also a partner in the startup.
“We sat down with the caddies and asked if they would be interested,” von Stade said. “Without the caddies, it goes nowhere and the critical piece was to get the caddies engaged.”
The Caddie Network
LAUNCHED: June 2018
HEADQUARTERS: Stamford, Conn.
NO. OF EMPLOYEES: 11 (full time and contractors)
WHAT THEY DO: The Caddie Network is a startup digital content platform focused solely on professional caddies through video, features and written content.
John von Stade
president, Association of Professional Tour Caddies
partner, ITR Management
The deal calls for the caddies to earn an undisclosed percentage of revenue in return for rights to content.
The initial revenue model calls for the sponsorship of branded content on the site to be followed by ad sales. The network is in talks with brands in the insurance, financial services, footwear, watches and credit card categories. The site is now free, but a subscription model is possible in the future.
Currently, 148 out of the 165 professional caddies are part of the licensing agreement. Nearly all caddies have received permission from their bosses — the PGA Tour pros — to participate.
“If you look at the evolution of caddying throughout the years, it is much more of a respected profession, and The Caddie Network is an example of that,” said Kenny Harms, a board member of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies who has been involved in the development of the network.
Harms, who caddies for PGA Tour pro Kevin Na, said the business model will help caddies land sponsorships of their own from companies that want to be associated with PGA Tour pros.
“Everything is based on content, especially for advertisers, and this is going to promote the caddies,” he said. “We are on the ground floor and now with The Caddie Network, it is the missing link as we look to move forward in the business world.”
The content comes from caddies and other contributors, and can range from an article on a golf rule to a whimsical piece with caddies making predictions on college football games. Among other content highlights:
A “Coffee with Caddies” video series and dispatches from the recent Ryder Cup held in Paris with caddies Tim Mickelson and Paul Tesori.
A TV show in the works with Jim “Bones” Mackay, former caddie for Phil Mickelson. The show is contingent upon getting it sold.
A media and marketing partnership with the makers of the documentary “Loopers: The Caddie’s Long Walk.” The network plans content tied to the documentary, such as highlights from events caddies will host at film festivals.
What won’t be featured is any negative player content, given that the caddies’ jobs are directly tied to the players.
“We won’t come out with salacious news about a player on the tour,” von Stade said. “We are not going to be the TMZ of golf. That’s a quick way to lose jobs.”
The site is averaging around 80,000 unique visits per month with page views and audience traffic up 47 percent on a month-to month basis. The viewer demographics to date show that 68 percent of visitors range between the age of 25 and 54.
Now that it’s rolled out, the focus for the company is to increase marketing efforts to raise the network’s profile.
“We’ve got to build the brand,” von Stade said. “We’ve spent little money on the brand side and now we have to put together a good strategy to be part of the vernacular when you think about golf.”
Future plans also call for the site to add content from caddies on the European and LPGA tours.
“We’d like to bring in everyone,” von Stade said. “We have lofty goals.”