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Hideki Matsuyama came to Augusta National a decade ago as the first Japanese amateur to ever play the Masters. He has carried the burden of a golf-crazed nation ever since, while he tallied five PGA Tour wins and four top-five finishes at majors. The 29-year-old made history Sunday as the first Japanese player to ever win a men’s golf major with his one-stroke victory over Will Zalatoris.
The history-making result should catapult Matsuyama into endorsement stardom. “A Masters win is easily worth $600 million for Matsuyama,” said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert at Baker Street Advertising, who figures the win is worth $20 million a year off the course and could last 30 years because of the long shelf life of golfer’s as pitchmen. “He’ll be an icon in his golf-mad country.”
Matsuyama was already a popular endorser as Japan’s top player with partners Lexus, Srixon and Nomura Securities among those earning him an estimated $8 million to $10 million a year off the course. The U.S. is the only country with more golf courses than Japan, which is home to roughly half the courses in all of Asia.
“The Masters win is a game-changer,” said Bill Sanders, who navigated the marketing career of Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming. “Japan has a long history of endorsement deals with Hollywood actors and athletes. The upside might be limited in the U.S., but it should be an enormous windfall in Japan.”
Sanders doesn’t see Matsuyama’s lack of English as a roadblock either, pointing out that Yao spoke very little English at first. “English doesn’t really matter for a full page ad in GQ,” said Sanders, who thinks global brands will attach themselves to Matsuyama understanding that most of their marketing upside is in Japan. An added bonus for new partners: Matsuyama will be one of the faces of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo this summer, and there’s early talk of him being chosen to light the Olympic flame.
“He will have limitless brand deals and corporate requests,” said longtime Octagon marketing executive David Schwab. “I suspect he will value his personal time more than a lot of marketing days. Preferential equity stakes in businesses and licensing may be attractive to limit time involved. And because it is 2021, he will probably have 50 NFT proposals on his desk by tomorrow.”
There is a history of breakthrough athletes in Asia turning into endorsement stars. Li Na was the first Chinese player to win a tennis major with her 2011 French Open triumph. She quickly racked up seven multi-year deals worth at least $2 million annually. Kei Nishikori has never won a major but is the only male Japanese player to crack the top five in the men’s tennis rankings and pockets more than $30 million a year from sponsors.
Most recently, Naomi Osaka catapulted into endorsement stardom following her 2018 U.S. Open win, the first ever grand slam for a Japanese tennis player, and she’s tacked on three more slams. Companies flocked to Osaka, and her off-court earnings hit $36 million in 2020 as the highest-paid female athlete ever.
The Japanese press has tracked Matsuyama’s every move exhaustively since he joined the PGA Tour full time in 2014, akin to what Ichiro Suzuki and Shohei Ohtani experienced in baseball when they came to the U.S. from Japan. Matsuyama’s first breakthrough on the global stage was in 2016 when he won the WGC-HSBC Champions—the first Asian player to win a World Golf Championship—and finished in the top 15 of all four majors the following year, ascending to the No. 2 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings.
But it has been a struggle since his surge up the rankings. He had not won an event or finished in the 15 of another major since 2017, until today. And now, he’ll forever be a Masters champion.
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