LIV Golf is wreaking havoc on equipment deals

LIV Golf is wreaking havoc on equipment deals

Cameron Smith celebrates after winning the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews Old Course. (Photo: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports)

Cameron Smith dramatically held off Rory McIlroy to win the 2022 British Open in July after winning the Players Championship in March. The Australian had a monster year, then jumped to LIV Golf after the Tour Championship in August.

Smith plays Titleist clubs, uses a Titleist ball and bag, and even has the company’s logo on the front of this hat, the most visible, high-value piece of real estate in the golf endorsement world.

He is the highest-ranked Titleist staffer on the Official World Golf Ranking (No. 3 as of September 25), but if you click ‘Tour’ on Titleist’s website and view ‘Featured Titleist Players,’ you won’t see his picture. Jordan Spieth, Nelly Korda, Will Zalatoris, Patrick Cantlay, Garrick Higgo, Danielle Kang, Justin Thomas and Webb Simpson are there, but the “Champion Golfer of the Year,” who played in 18 PGA Tour events last season and won three, is not. He’s below that prime area, with a small square photo that blends in with seven others.

Under normal circumstances, a pro who wins marquee events like the Players Championship and British Open would have his picture splashed over marketing materials and advertisements for a year. Smith has appeared recently in Titleist spots for the brand’s new drivers and balls, but at this point it looks like Titleist might not promote Smith (and his victories) as much it might other major winners.

So, it could be argued that Cameron Smith’s choice to play in the LIV Series decreased the value of his win at TPC Sawgrass and St. Andrews for Titleist. As the champion of those events and a highly-ranked player, Smith would have been in marquee groups at PGA Tour events throughout 2023, and that means lots of exposure for Titleist, but now he will likely not be allowed to defend his title at Sawgrass (one of the highest-profile events in golf). He has a five-year exemption into the majors and can play the British Open until he’s 60, but otherwise, you can only see Smith play live on YouTube and LIV’s website.

Similarly, it would be tough to argue that Adidas and TaylorMade are getting the full value of their deals with Dustin Johnson. He played a full schedule through the PGA Championship in May, but after joining LIV Golf, the two-time major winner has only appeared in two televised events, the US Open (T-24) and the British Open (T-6). Johnson won LIV’s event in Boston, but TaylorMade decided not to celebrate that victory on social media like when Rory McIlroy won the Tour Championship. The next time DJ plays on network television and flashes Adidas and TaylorMade logos will likely be next April at the 2023 Masters.

“Two years ago, there was stability and we knew where guys were going to be and roughly what their schedules were going to be,” said one brand’s marketing guru. “Now it’s, ‘Are they going to be on TV on a Sunday,’ but there are sub-levels to that, like ‘Which network are they on?’ Even if LIV gets on TV, who is watching it?”

In other words, how do you compare a golfer’s value and his exposure for a company when he’s on CBS or NBC on a Sunday afternoon in February or March to the same player in a LIV Series event that might be broadcast at the same time on Fox Sports 1 or another network that is less known for golf coverage?

Some golf fans, although not all, see many LIV players as less likable right now, and just about all of those who made the jump are seeing their positions on the Official World Golf Ranking slide down every week.

Gauging a player’s actual value to a brand in the marketplace with so many unknown variables is almost impossible.


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