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Sam Carp | LIV Golf returns with its first ad campaign but how many sponsors will take its side?

The rebel golf tour has ambitions to create global licensing campaigns like other sports properties, but has it done enough to convince brands that it's a worthwhile investment?

24 February 2023 Sam Carp

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Why should I support your team?

For better or worse, this is a question all of us have asked ourselves at some point. In many cases, the answer will be tied to our hometown; in others, the choice will be forced upon us by our parents. And now, a lot of youngsters are directing their loyalty to wherever their favourite players reside.

More recently, the question was made the subject of LIV Golf’s first global advertising campaign, which was released ahead of the start of the rebel tour’s second season in Mexico this week and is headlined by a 90-second TV commercial featuring players such as Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Cam Smith. 

In the opening scene, a young girl – definitely not golf’s traditional audience – asks which LIV Golf team she should follow, at which point a sequence of middle-aged men – definitely a better reflection of golf’s traditional demographic – awkwardly try to convince her why theirs is the team for her. 

The ‘12 Teams. You Choose’ campaign is LIV’s latest attempt to double down on its team format, which was one of the key things it used to differentiate itself from the PGA Tour when launching last year. 

But such was the last-minute nature of the inaugural tournament, there really wasn’t enough time to do any kind of brand-building around the teams. So in LIV’s first season, the Hy Flyers, Fireballs and Iron Heads didn’t really mean anything to anyone, and their logos appearing alongside player names on leaderboards only caused confusion for fans. 

But the question ‘why should I choose your team?’ is also a more existential one in the context of LIV and its position within golf. Why should anyone choose the breakaway series over and above the established order? What’s really in it for them? It is a question for fans, but also brands who might have been pitched the idea of teaming up with a tour that brings with it a whole load of baggage.

For the most part, sponsors have opted to steer clear of the Saudi-backed golf circuit, and some have even pulled relationships with individual players who have left the PGA Tour behind. Mickelson, for example, famously lost deals with brands like KPMG, Callaway and Workday after pledging his allegiance to LIV. 

Sacrificing endorsement deals won’t be of much concern to the biggest names, who are guaranteed eye-watering sums of money to compete with LIV. But the news this week that Adidas has ended its 15-year association with Dustin Johnson reminded me of something I’d heard Sean Bratches, LIV’s former chief commercial officer, say last year on the Unofficial Partner podcast.

“We are going to invest to buy those players out of their kits,” he said. “So we are going to be able to go to the marketplace – to the Adidas’, to the Pumas, to the Nikes, to the New Eras – and create global licensing campaigns consistent with other sport.”

Right now, that ambition seems a long way off. Aside from luring a handful of star players, LIV has done little to convince global brands that the Crushers, RangeGoats (come on, man), Majesticks et al represent a good platform to promote their brand. The series has failed to secure decent television coverage, executive departures are an almost weekly occurrence, and the organisation has struggled to shed the idea that it is anything more than the ‘Saudi tour’.

Coincidentally, LIV did announce EasyPost, a US-based logistics and shipping company, as its first global sponsor while I was writing this newsletter. That in itself illustrates the calibre of partner the tour will be able to attract: lesser-known challenger brands that are yet to make a significant splash in sports – let alone golf. 

So, LIV, why should sponsors support your team? I’m still not sure even those selling know the answer.

Adidas’ decision to drop Dustin Johnson highlights the challenge LIV Golf faces in trying to attract sponsors

We interrupt this crucial moment for…

As we discussed last time, the Super Bowl without commercials would be like peanut butter without jelly, or Ben without Jerry, or… you get the point. 

One event where fans aren’t so keen on the sponsor interruptions? The Daytona 500. Nascar’s flagship season-opening race took place last Sunday but viewers were left raging when Fox’s coverage cut to a commercial just as a collision between Kevin Harvick and Tyler Reddick sparked a pile-up. It was one of many complaints from fans of an already sponsor-heavy sport that the broadcast simply featured too many adverts.

Having broadcast the Super Bowl only a week earlier, Fox knows how lucrative the ad business can be. But unlike in American football, where there are natural pauses for commercial breaks, motorsport does not afford broadcasters the same luxury, meaning they have to find a happy medium.

And if there’s any fan I wouldn’t want to upset, it would probably be a Nascar fan.

If you don’t like it, then…

A new stadium naming rights sponsor for Bolton Wanderers wouldn’t typically attract much attention, but the third-tier English soccer side’s new deal with Toughsheet has gone viral – but probably for the wrong reasons.

I’ve watched on as countless people rip off this guy’s joke on Twitter and have listened as the sponsorship gets chuckled at on some of my favourite podcasts. 

Maybe that was the plan all along, or maybe the partnerships team just never actually said the stadium’s new name out loud before it was too late. I guess that’s Toughsheet. 

Top dealers

News that Adidas is ending its relationship with Johnson was just one of several stories this week focusing on the German sportswear brand, which recently warned that significant losses could be on the horizon if it is unable to sell the billions of dollars’ worth of Yeezy stock it is sitting on following the end of its partnership with Kanye West. 

Adidas has also been reshuffling its pack in sport over the past year, announcing in July that it would be ending its relationship with the NHL. One major league property that it won’t be splitting from is MLS, which announced on Wednesday that it will be extending its relationship with its longest-standing partner until 2030 in a deal reportedly worth US$830 million.

And there could be more on the horizon for Adidas. Reports suggest the brand is set to step in as the technical partner of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The national cricket body has had a bit of a torrid time recently trying to pin down a kit supplier, with Mobile Premier League – which never felt like an obvious fit for an apparel deal – making an early exit from a contract that was due to run until December 2023. 

A short-term alliance with Indian clothing brand Killer Jeans represented a stop gap for the BCCI, which will reportedly earn ₹350 crore (US$42 million) from a new five-year deal with Adidas.

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