Brian Cristiano sat down with Daniel Roberts at Yahoo! Finance to disucss the battle between brands around the Masters.
The world’s top three golfers are all competing at the 80th Masters Tournament this weekend, and they are decked out in the country’s top three sports apparel brands.
Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy, ranked Nos. 1, 2, and 3 in the world, are sponsored by Adidas, Under Armour, and Nike, respectively. And each brand has released new advertisements recently pegged to The Masters.
The ad spots differ in the approach they take, but they have one thing in common: They are extremely serious. Under Armour’s ad is part of its new “Rule Yourself” campaign, launched over the summer, and includes Spieth, the basketball player Steph Curry, ballet dancer Misty Copeland, quarterback Tom Brady, and swimmer Michael Phelps. The ads show how grueling and monotonous an athlete’s training schedule can be; each athlete is multiplied endlessly as they perform an action—for Spieth, it’s driving a ball.
Nike’s ad with McIlroy, released this month, follows a similar theme. He wakes up early, goes running, lifts weights, hits at the golf range and meets with the press. Then he does it again, and again, and again. It looks brutal. “Enjoy the chase,” the tagline reads.
Finally, the Adidas ad with Jason Day, who won his first major last year, is more stripped down and simple: Day, sitting down, narrates a 30-second clip about his ambitions. “Some might put their feet up, some might relax, pat themselves on the back,” Day says, “but that’s not me. Because the goal isn’t to win a major. It’s to win everything.” The campaign has the tagline “Geared for more,” and also features Dustin Johnson reflecting on his mistakes and Sergio Garcia lifting weights.
Spieth, McIlroy, and Day have been called The Big Three of golf, though many people add Rickie Fowler to that list and call it The Big Four. On YouTube, Under Armour’s ad with Spieth, Curry and Copeland has more than 2 million views; Nike’s new ad with McIlroy has nearly 2 million; the Adidas Jason Day spot has just 10,000.
So how effective are the spots? That question is the first topic in our new Sportsbook series (see video above). If you ask Brian Cristiano, CEO of New York ad agency Bold Worldwide, it is Spieth, who is just 22 and won two of golf’s four majors last year, that’s ahead of the other two in terms of fan recognition and branding power.
In other words, it helps to win.
But it also helps to be associated with the brand that, of these three, still enjoys an “underdog” appeal and has fewer marquee athletes in its stable, so it makes more hay with each of them. That’s Under Armour, which first signed Spieth right out of college in 2010, but last year re-signed him to a whopping 10-year deal, reportedly worth $200 million (McIlroy’s deal with Nike is thought to have the same terms), and at the precise right moment: just before he won The Masters, then the U.S. Open in the same year, and became world-famous in a rush. Under Armour’s re-signing of Spieth last year was arguably the smartest endorsement deal of the year. It began marketing him just in time for the launch of its first ever golf shoe.
Under Armour has said that for now, it has no interest in manufacturing golf equipment (Nike and Adidas, through its company TaylorMade, both make clubs). But it does want to sell golf apparel and footwear (Nike Golf ranks first in apparel and second in footwear), and this year the company launched its first full golf shoe collection, again just in time for The Masters. And again it may be poised for a big marketing win – after the first day of play, Spieth was comfortably in the lead. Last July, when Spieth missed a putt for a chance to win the British Open, Under Armour stock fell the second it happened (just a dollar), suggesting that these sponsorships do in fact influence the stock price.
It bears mentioning that the big three of Nike, Under Armour and Adidas aren’t the only apparel brands on the golf course, just as the big three golfers aren’t the only top contenders. Among others, Uniqlo, the Japanese clothing company, sponsors Adam Scott, who is on a recent streak of winning PGA Tour events, and Puma sponsors Rickie Fowler.
Golf isn’t anywhere near football, basketball or baseball in terms of popularity in America. Many hope that hotshot young stars like Day, McIlroy and Spieth can bring excitement and young fans to the sport—and a slew of new tech innovations may help as well. But even with golf where it is, having an endorsed golfer win on the course is more important to the leading sports apparel brands than many might assume.
Yahoo Finance Sportsbook is a new video series on the business of sports. Check back for future installments, and join the conversation on social media with hashtag #yfsportsbook.
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology.
battle it out heading into the 2016 Master's Tournament.