By Rick Barrack:
It’s not news that sporting events have become increasingly branded over the years. We’ve come to expect a bombardment of advertisements and sponsorships at auto racing events and basketball, football, and baseball games–sports that are now modern-day billboards for advertisers like Nike, Fila, Budweiser, McDonald’s, UPS, MasterCard, and Sprint, to name just a few.
But from golf? For whatever reason, this pastime has always seemed more sacred than the others, more refined somehow. The serene courses, the crisp outfits, the elegant clubs, the clean-cut personas…all these elements combined to yield a sophisticated sporting experience. That all changed for me, however, while watching this year’s Masters. Since when did Augusta become Times Square? Endorsements used to be limited to a single logo on a cap, golf shirt or pair of shorts, but in recent years, multiple logos have turned up on the bodies of golfers like Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, and K.J. Choi–so much so that they are starting to resemble Nascar drivers. And it seems to have finally reached a fever pitch.
As I sat watching golf on a beautiful Sunday, one of my favorite marketing buzzwords came to mind: ad creep. According to Wordspy.com, ad creep is “the gradual expansion of advertising space to non-traditional surfaces such as floors, bathroom walls, cars, and the sides of buildings.” The first time I heard the term, I was reminded of Minority Report, the Steven Spielberg film inspired by the Philip K. Dick short story, which paints a universe where every inch of every space people pass through–and even the air itself–is covered in advertising. The film was set in the year 2054. Today, as the proliferation of ads on the course proves, we’re not that far off the mark.
But why is ad creep finding its way into the most reserved and conservative pastime? Well, not to blame things on Tiger Woods (because god knows, he’s got enough to deal with these days), but it’s a known fact that he changed the sport forever. A kid whose star shone as brightly as young Michael Jordan’s, Tiger made golf accessible to people of all ages and bank accounts, and raked in the highest contracts in golf history: $40 million with Nike, $20 million with Titleist. In turn, he invited in more viewers–viewers with deep pockets–and opened the entire PGA tour up to ad creep. It was thrilling to watch him on the course, and all the buzz resulted in golf’s viewership going through the roof.
It also doesn’t hurt that golf’s biggest viewers are baby boomers–the dream target of every company. Older and more sophisticated, baby boomers are confident consumers who know what they like, have money to spend and subscribe to a “carpe diem” philosophy–see Fast Company’s Business of Golf. Maybe this is why we’re seeing ads for premium vodka, Lexus, and upscale travel destinations during golf events, as opposed to Nascar’s ads for beer and Ford trucks?
Of course, prestige advertisers aren’t the only ones wanting to snag all that green stuff, which is resulting in all that aforementioned creep. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-advertising; I make my living in marketing and design, for goodness sake. But I suppose that at the end of the day, I’m also a traditionalist who holds certain things sacred, and fears for what lay ahead. Where will signage turn up next on the course: permanently tattooed on players’ calves, forearms, necks and foreheads? Or, floating in the air around the players, a la Minority Report? As with Tiger’s career, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.