Last Updated: December 5, 2020

The golfing world and the sports-marketing industry changed dramatically in 1996 with the arrival of Tiger Woods and Nike Golf. Almost overnight, the image of golf became younger, more diverse, and more fashionable, and the marketing of golf equipment and apparel was revolutionized.

Nike Golf—a pioneering company in marketing sports equipment and apparel—signed an unprecedented endorsement deal before Tiger Woods played a single professional tournament. They saw an opportunity to have the young, athletic phenom change not only the mindset of the sport, but the playing field for marketing its equipment and apparel—away from the elitist pastime of the middle-aged, to a game for everyone.

The charisma and talent of Tiger Woods, combined with the marketing expertise of Nike, led to a boom in the golfing world. According to the National Golf Foundation, in 1995, just prior to Tiger’s arrival on the PGA Tour, there were 24.8 million golf enthusiasts (those who played 8+ rounds of golf annually) in the US. In 2000, that number had jumped to 29.9 million, a 20% increase. That boom in participation naturally translated to an increase in sales of golf apparel and equipment.

In September of 2009, Forbes magazine reported Tiger Woods to be the sporting world’s first “billion-dollar man,” mostly on the strength of his endorsements. As for Nike, in just 10 years, the company had risen to the top of the PGA Tour, with more pro golfers using their clubs than any other brand.

Golf is now among the most lucrative sports in terms of endorsement earning potential, driven primarily by the profit potential from selling apparel and equipment. As a result, there’s a whole new consumer profile for passionate golfers. With Nike’s success as an example, marketing professionals have developed strategies that tap into the new psychology of the avid golfer.

The Psychology of Marketing Golf Equipment and Apparel

Brand and CommercialExplanation of AdvertisementDemographicsPsychological Response Elicited
Adidas, “Golf Energy”Quick, upper-body shots of young golfers in action, it is set to dramatic music and with a high-intensity backdrop instead of the serenity of a golf course.Males, ages 21-40Be Cool: Appeals to style, strength, and comfort. Golfers pictured are young, fit, and athletic. No voice-over, just words like “cool,” “strong,” “energy,” and “endurance” flashed on screen. Adidas apparel brings you those desirable attributes.
Callaway Golf, “Razr Fit Driver vs. The Bellagio Fountains”Pro golfer Alvaro Quiros uses his Callaway driver to perform an impressive feat of strength and precision, with the spectacle of Las Vegas’s Bellagio hotel and fountains as the backdrop. He hits a drive that clears the massive Bellagio Fountains and hits a target that sets off a dazzling display of lights and water.Males, ages 21-40Envy of Success: You admire the talent and style of the golfer, and make a connection to using Callaway equipment to reach his level of success.
Nike Golf, “Tiger Woods”This was Tiger’s intro as a Nike endorser. Hollywood director Doug Liman was hired to create it, but it ended up as a very low-budget, simple ad of a young, athletic, and stylish Tiger performing a remarkable bit of golfing dexterity and skill. No voice-over or text. Just set to playful, bouncy music. No branding until the final screenshot.Males, ages 21-30Get on the Bandwagon: Playing golf is no longer just for middle-aged white guys. It’s now a Nike-supported sport: upbeat, fun, diverse, and stylish. Come along for the ride.

Capturing the consumer’s attention: Human Billboards

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Golf is a sport that has great advantages for the marketing of equipment and apparel. In team sports, the brand and logos of the team get prominence and the bulk of the exposure to the audience. However, golf is an individual sport with no team uniform or brand, making it the perfect market for professional endorsements. Endorsement contracts with athletes who use the company’s equipment and wear the apparel during tournaments become much more lucrative because the branding opportunities and exposure are dramatically increased.

In addition, golf equipment is much more varied and personal than in other sports. A great deal of scrutiny is devoted to the types of clubs, balls, and gloves the professionals are using.

These factors essentially turn professional golfers into walking billboards that are constantly connecting with the spectators’ psyche. The company’s logo is always shown prominently every time the golfer hits a shot. Through endorsement contracts, marketing professionals have the opportunity to “brand” golfers, like Tiger Woods as a Nike golfer. This creates a powerful connection in the mind of the spectator and consumer: Excellence in golf is associated with the Nike brand.

Endorsement Deals Put Golfers on Forbes' Rich List

Two of the 10 highest-paid athletes are golfers, according to Forbes magazine, driven almost entirely by their apparel/equipment marketing endorsements. Tiger Woods and Nike started a revolution in sports marketing that has catapulted golfers to the upper echelon of sports royalty. Here’s the list, with endorsement money broken out:

  1. Floyd Mayweather (boxing): $85 million/$0 from endorsements
  2. Manny Pacquiao (boxing): $62 million/$0 from endorsements
  3. Tiger Woods (golf): $59.4 million/$55 million from endorsements
  4. LeBron James (basketball): $53 million/$40 million from endorsements
  5. Roger Federer (tennis): $52.7 million/$45 million from endorsements
  6. Kobe Bryant (basketball): $52.3 million/$32 million from endorsements
  7. Phil Mickelson (golf): $47.8 million/$43 million from endorsements
  8. David Beckham (soccer): $46 million/$37 million from endorsements
  9. Cristiano Ronaldo (soccer): $42.5 million/$22 million from endorsements
  10. Peyton Manning (football): $42.4 million/$10 million from endorsements

Source: Badenhausen, K. (2012, June 18). Forbes: the world’s highest paid athletes.

Was Tiger worth it?

Tiger Woods was a major gamble for Nike Golf. He was undeniably a mega-talented phenom, but the sports world is filled with stories of phenoms who didn’t pan out. Nike initially invested $40 million in him before he won a single professional tournament. They have since invested upwards of $200 million in him, and they were one of the few companies that didn’t dump Tiger Woods in the wake of his marriage scandal. Have those investments paid off?

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business say the answer is a resounding yes. In their 2010 study, they conclude that Nike has pocketed an additional $60 million in profits from their endorsement contract with Tiger. They also find that, although Nike sales suffered in the wake of his marital scandal, they were still $1.6 million higher than if they had cut ties with Tiger, like many other companies did.

**Source: Srinivasan, K., Derdenger, T., & Chung, K. (2010). Economic value of celebrity endorsement: Tiger woods’ impact on nike golf balls. Informally published manuscript, School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.

Tapping into the “Kickassery” Psyche

Callaway Golf has taken a different marketing route than the endorsement deal. Instead, they hired a young celebrity to work behind the scenes to reshape their image. Justin Timberlake was hired as Callaway’s creative director in December of 2011. (Vranica, S. (2012, January 24). Wall Street Journal).

Bringing Style to the Links

Making the connection to young people’s sense of fashion is another key to understanding the psychology of marketing golf apparel.

A 2008 market research study by Xavier & Associates Corporation examines the recent trend toward a more fashionable influence on golf apparel. “The fashion brands say their aim is to create golf apparel that, unlike much of traditional golf clothing, players could wear from the golf course to, say, a nice restaurant after a round without the clothes screaming, ‘I just came from playing golf,’” the study reads.

According to the study, golf apparel has seen a “new wave of lines from the fashion industry,” including Calvin Klein, Stella McCartney, Tommy Bahama, Levi Strauss, and Nautica.

Source: The U.S. golf apparel industry. (2008, June). Market Research by Xavier & Associates Corporation.

The company had seen declining sales as it failed to connect with the new generation of golfers. “Being hip and contemporary has to be part of the marketing plan,” Jeff Colton, Callaway’s senior vice president of global brand and product, told the Wall Street Journal.

Timberlake was the creative mind behind the Las Vegas golf stunt commercials featured in the “Psychology of Marketing Golf Equipment and Apparel” box above. He described the psychology of his brash, spectacle-rich campaign as “a nice injection of kickassery.”

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