Sunday, July 19, 2015

Golf's New $25 Million Man*

*And that might be low.

[ed. Jordan surges into the lead in the third round of the British Open. See also: Head of the Class.]

Turning points usually don't walk up, slap you in the face and shout, "This is important—pay attention!" More often, they're recognized after the fact. The accomplishments of Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and even Jack Nicklaus look bigger now than they did at the time, the appreciation growing with the years. But occasionally, a moment occurs with such sudden brilliance that it amounts to a face slap. When Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes at the age of 21, it was one of those moments. And so, too, it seems was the victory this year by 21-year-old Jordan Spieth at Augusta National Golf Club. "There are certain tournaments when we know we're watching the beginning of a new era," says Casey Alexander, director of research and special-situations analyst for golf stocks at Gilford Securities Inc. "And clearly, that was true in this Masters." Like Woods, Spieth won people over not just with his golf but with his essence. Woods was a young, dynamic man of color in a staid, white sport. And that was a refreshing change for golf.

Spieth emerges now as a similarly refreshing change: a young, dynamic new-age champion. Quite simply, Spieth slipped into a green jacket and the role as one of the most marketable athletes in all of sports—in fact, one of the most marketable in all of entertainment.

Call him the $25 Million Man—at the very least. That's the new base for his yearly off-course income, multiple agents and marketing experts tell Golf Digest. That, combined with his on-course winnings, could jump Spieth from No. 16 this year on the Golf Digest 50 all-encompassing money list to as high as No. 3 in the 2016 ranking, trailing only Woods and Phil Mickelson.

The significance of Spieth's Masters victory was that it extended his brand beyond the world of golf to the public at large—especially a younger, hipper crowd obsessed not so much with sports as with celebrity.

According to the Celebrity DBI, which measures consumer perception of 3,600 celebrities for the promotions and marketing agency The Marketing Arm, 19 percent of consumers knew who Spieth was in mid-March, before the Masters. On April 16, after the victory at Augusta, his consumer awareness was 35 percent. (There's room for growth there: Tiger is known by 97 percent.)

In overall appeal/likability, Spieth went from No. 1,500 to No. 129, ahead of Tina Fey (134) and Jack Nicholson (135). In aspiration (think: "I want to be like Mike"), Spieth went from No. 333 to No. 4, behind only Tom Hanks, Bill Gates and Kate Middleton. In endorsement value, Spieth went from No. 529 to No. 5, behind Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Betty White and Michael Jordan, and ahead of Arnold Palmer, Angelina Jolie and SofĂ­a Vergara.

"When it comes to the sports-marketing checklist, Spieth seemingly checks all the boxes," says David Carter, a principal for The Sports Business Group and a professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. "He's competitive, a strong communicator and appears to fully appreciate what he has and what he represents to the sport. Roll up all of these attributes, including the fact that he's likely to be on the scene for a very long time, and all those that invest in golf are understandably bullish about his future."

Under Armour, the sports clothing, shoe and accessory company, felt bullish enough to sign Spieth to a 10-year contract in January, before he won the Masters. The deal, which industry insiders say has "Tiger-like numbers," includes an eight-figure guarantee annually, bonus benchmarks (for things like winning a major), stock options and, in the future, a signature line of clothing.

by Ron Sirak, Golf Digest |  Read more:
Image: Walter Iooss Jr.