It has been two-and-a-half years since the Tiger Woods car crash and resulting scandal that caused the free fall of the world's most popular and marketable athlete. It was a stomach punch for the PGA Tour, which relied on Woods to deliver the goods when it came to generating interest in its sport. Woods' 30 month winless streak (broken last month), battered body and advancing age has the PGA Tour anxiously hoping for someone to fill the void. The PGA Tour's prayers may have been answered Sunday with newly crowned Masters champion Bubba Watson.
Watson won the 76th Masters in a dramatic playoff over South African Louis Oosthuizen. It was Watson's fourth PGA Tour win (all in the past two years) and makes him the highest ranked American at No. 4 in the World Golf Rankings. The win added $1.44 million to his bank account, but is worth millions more in off the course earnings. Watson has the potential to be a marketing superstar in a sport that highly rewards the top players.
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Nielsen and E-Poll Market Research survey consumers to derive something called an N-Score, which measures a sports figure's overall endorsement potential based on appeal and awareness. Watson has a low N-Score as of October because his awareness scores are so low, but his appeal scores are off the charts with 68% of respondents saying they like Watson (or like him a lot). Compare that to other popular golfers like Phil Mickelson (52%) or Fred Couples (57%). Woods is liked by just 17%. Watson's awareness levels will soar after Sunday's win.
"Bubba Watson has great potential upside as a marketer. Before yesterday, Bubba was relatively unknown outside of avid golf fans, but he has always been one of the most liked players on the tour," says Stephen Master, Vice-President of Sports for Nielsen. "His win at the Masters in front of a huge audience definitely catapults him into the top tier in terms of marketability for up-and-coming American players on the Tour."
Watson has several things going for him. He was born Gerry Lester Watson, but has a catchy moniker in Bubba (think Tiger, Kobe, LeBron). Fans love the long ball and no one hits it longer than Watson. He leads the PGA Tour in average driving distance at 313 yards this year, 18 yards longer than Woods. He has a great back story as a self-taught golfer who never had a lesson, giving hackers around the country hope. Lastly, Watson benefits from being an American.
The top spot in golf has been a revolving door since Woods abdicated the No. 1 ranking in October, 2010. Non-Ameicans Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy have all taken turns at the top of the World Golf Rankings. The past 14 majors have produced 14 different winners. Golf needs someone to string together multiple major wins to create buzz within in the sport. It helps if that person has a U.S. passport if corporate America is going to get behind that person.
Watson's current deals include: Ping (clubs), Travis Matthew (clothes), Richard Mille (watch), Titleist (balls), Footjoy (shoes) Kentwool (socks), Marquis Jet, EA Sports and Schuco (clean energy). These are mostly small deals and generate roughly $2 million annually for Watson. The two top players off the course, Woods and Mickelson, earn more than $40 million annually from endorsements.
Watson added Motorola Mobility to his endorsement stable this year. The Libertyville, Ill.-based communications company currently being acquired by Google, signed Watson to promote the golf version of its MotoActv, the world's first GPS fitness tracker and smart MP3 player sports watch. The golf version launched last month and acts as a caddy with more than 20,000 course available on the device. It tracks all of your shots and yardage information, which can be synched wirelessly. Watson used the device for practice rounds last week at Augusta National.
"We wanted someone who was up-and-coming and really stood out," says Paul Nicholson, a Director of Marketing for Motorola Mobility. Watson's personality was also a big selling point. "He is his own man and has a very different way of thinking which is very true to our product," says Nicholson. Another key selling point for Motorola was his prodigious tee shots, as a big draw for the golf version of the MotoActv is the ability to track the distance of your shots.
Watson is a marketer's dream. The only thing holding him back right now is the frigid market for sponsorships across all sports. Yet, Watson is set to see his off course paycheck soar as the market thaws. The golfer demographic is excellent thanks to fans with high disposable incomes ready to shell out for golf equipment, cars and watches. Bubba is just the man for the job.
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