By Barry Janoff
August 19, 2016: This year, for the first time since 1904, golf is part of the global stage at the Summer Olympics, being staged in Rio de Janeiro. Its presence there will, according to industry analysts, help to boost golf's profile among casual players and youngsters, as well as those who may have no connection to it.
It turns out that golf's sponsorship presence has been pretty solid all along.
Worldwide sponsorship spend on golf is expected to top a record $1.82 billion this year, up 5.1% from the $1.72 billion spent in 2015, and also exceeding a projected 4.6% increase as well as a 4.7% increase in overall sponsorship spending.
Anheuser-Busch InBev is the most prevalent brand in the sport, with 35% of properties with a sponsor in the malt beverage category reporting a partnership with an Anheuser-Busch brand, according to the 2016 Golf Sponsorship Spending Report from marketing, research and consulting firm IEG, Chicago.
Alcoholic beverages is the most active category sponsor of golf, with companies in this category "five times more likely to sponsor the sport than the average of all sponsors," according to IEG research.
The increase in sponsorship spending comes at time when participation in golf has slightly decreased.
Figures show a dip in 2015 to 24.1 million (among those over the age of 6 who played at least one round of golf) from 24.7 million the two previous years, and down from 25.7 million in 2011. However, numbers remained strong in several key areas, including committed golfers, beginning golfers and in the number of people interested in taking up the game, according to the National Golf Federation.
Earlier this year, the PGA Tour and LPGA unveiled a partnership to include schedule coordination, joint marketing programs, domestic TV representation, digital media and "exploring the potential development of joint events."
Both organizations said that the alliance "strengthens their relationship and the potential benefits of working together in these various areas (which) are attractive for the overall growth of the sport."
Young golfers such as Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko are "resonating" with consumers and young potential participants, according to NGF.
Earlier this month, Nike Golf said it would "accelerate innovation in its golf footwear and apparel business and will partner with more of the world’s best golfers" but at the same time would "transition out of equipment — including clubs, balls and bags."
Beginners numbered 2.2 million in 2015, which NGF said "compares favorably to the all-time high of 2.4 million in 2000," the year that Tiger Woods won three major championships.
Companies have good reason to activate in golf. According to NGF, an estimated 81 million people, including 62 million non-golfers, watched golf on TV in 2015 while 27 million read about the game in traditional or electronic media. One out of three Americans — about 95 million — played golf on a golf course or alternate venue, watched on TV or read about it in 2015.
Sponsorship spend on golf $1.65 billion in 2014, $1.6 billion in 2013, $1.51 billion in 2012. $1,4 billion in 2011 and $1.36 billion in 2010, according to IEG.
By comparison, global sponsorship spend on soccer will hit a record $60.2 billion this year, worldwide sponsorship spend in motorsports topped $5.3 billion last year and tennis was at $739 million, per IEG.
NFL sponsorship spend was $1.2 billion last season, the NBA hit $799 million, MLB reached $778 million and the NHL was $477 million.
"An estimated 81 million people, including 62 million non-golfers, watched golf on TV in 2015 while 27 million read about the game in traditional or electronic media."
Veteran golfer Phil Michelson tops the list among highest-paid golfers at $52.9 million, with $50 million of that from endorsement deals including Barclays and Rolex, according to Forbes.
McIlroy is second in endorsements at $35 million, including Nike and Omega. Spieth (pictured above) is third with endorsement earnings at $32 million from such partners as Under Armour, AT&T, Rolex and Coca-Cola.
Despite being away from the game due to rehab, Tiger Woods still takes in about $45 million in endorsement deals that include Hero Motorcorp, Kowa and Rolex.
Thompson ranks high among women golfers in endorsements with such deals as Rolex, EA Sports and Red Bull.
“Athletes like Tiger, Rory and Michelle (Wie) drive tremendous energy for the game and inspire consumers worldwide,” Daric Ashford, President for Nike Golf, said in a statement.
Following Anheuser-Busch, the Top Ten most active brands in golf are MasterCard (33% of properties with a sponsor in the category report a partnership with M/C), Coca-Cola (32%), Bacardi (25%), Rolex (21%), Daimler (16%), United-Continental (14%), AT&T (14%), Toyota (14%), PepsiCo (12%) and BMW (12%).
After alcoholic beverages, the most active categories are banks (which are three times more likely to sponsor golf than the average of all sponsors), automotive (2.8), professional services (2.3), insurance (2.3), tech-business (2.3), tech-consumer (2) and non-alcoholic beverages (1.9).
During the Olympics, NBCUniversal's Golf Channel will have about 50 hours of coverage.