Do winning golfers help their brands?

Measuring the impact of athlete sponsorship

Measuring the effectiveness of advertising is notoriously difficult, particular for non digital campaigns where individual exposures to the advertising cannot be determined.  For instance, in the case of out-of-home advertising such as billboards, advertisers are forced to rely on a combination of consumer brand surveys and travel diaries to see how exposure (driving by a billboard) leads to increases in brand awareness or sales.

Golf presents a very interesting case for the study of advertising effectiveness. Golfers and golf fans tend to be wealthier and spend a lot of money on both golf equipment and other goods and services.  Golfers also watch a lot of golf on TV making it one of the only sports where brands have such undiluted access to their consumers.

Another unique aspect of the golf market is that each golfer is a walking billboard for their sponsors.  Shirt and hat sponsorship fees range from the tens of thousands of dollars for a lower ranked PGA tour grinder to tens of millions of dollars yearly for the top golfers at the peak of their fame.  It's hard to argue that this is not a good investment when Tiger Woods makes the Nike logo levitate before the ball drops in during the most famous shot in the history of golf.

I was curious to see if we could quantify the impact of an individual golfer sponsorship (the first part of my secret plan to get Curated to sponsor a PGA golfer).  Golf is unique in that golfers are rarely in contention each week.  A golfer is only featured on the TV broadcast when they are playing well so we expect the featured brands to change each week.  This post exploits this fact as natural experiment to do an Interrupted Time Series analysis of consumer brand preference before and after the recent Masters tournament.  

Round 3 of the Masters saw one of the most remarkable back 9 performances in Masters history. Although likely eclipsed by Jack Nicklaus' round 4 back 9 in 1986, Hideki Matsuyama matched Jack's 6-under par 30 to take the lead in the tournament, a lead he would not give up, becoming the first Japanese male golfer to win a major golf tournament,

For an advertising effectiveness practitioner this round 3 performance was even more remarkable because of Hideki's prominent sponsorship by Srixon.  Although somewhat well known, Srixon lags behinds brands such as Callaway, Taylor Made, Titelist and Cobra in terms of brand penetration and awareness in the U.S. market. We have a less well known brand coming to prominence in the most famous setting atop the head of a charismatic first time champion.

As part of the Curated product experience, customers are asked to fill out a short survey that allows our experts to help them pick out the right gear.  In the context of a golf request, we ask a consumer's existing brand preferences:

Consumers are prompted to select one or more brands. Since our consumers generally come to us looking for help with gear recommendations and not with a specific product or brand in mind, this survey can serve as a unbiased measure of golf customer brand preferences and, more importantly, measure how these preferences change over time.

For this study, we look at the frequency at which consumers chose Srixon in our survey for two periods, March 1, 2011 through April 7, 2021 (Before Masters) and April 11, 2021 through April 26, 2021 (After Round 3).  Hideki's magical round 3 occurred on April 10, 2021, so we exclude data from the days of the first 3 rounds of the Masters.  Here are the rates at which consumers chose Srixon for the two periods.  Note that due to order of placement effects (earlier brands get more clicks), the absolute value of the brand preference rate is not very meaningful, only the relative changes:

Impact of Hideki's Masters win on Srixon golf brand preference

We saw a large jump in consumer preference for Srixon after the Masters, with consumers increasing the frequency with which they selected the Srixon brand by 50% over the pre Masters baseline.  The error bars are the one sigma statistical errors on the point estimate. The p-value (likelihood this is a random fluctuation) is 0.0003.

This study showcases an absolute best case scenario for such a measurement for several reasons.  First, the Masters is one of the most prominent golf tournaments and occurs at the time of year when consumers are exploring new golf models for the upcoming golf season.  Second, Srixon is a brand with lower baseline level of consumer awareness among our customers, so small absolute changes are easier to measure.  Finally, Hideki Matsuyama became the first man from golf obsessed Japan to lead after round 3 and eventually win a major, leading to increased media attention and potentially a new set of viewers.

A further extension of this study would be an analysis that uses data from the entire PGA tour season, accounting for the winner's golf brands, the prominence of their sponsorship, and the prominence of the tournament. Since golf brands tend to introduce new products with large TV advertising campaigns during prominent tournaments, we could also isolate the impacts of the golfer sponsorship and paid advertising.

Image Credit: Getty Images

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