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Golf, a sport or a brand building tool

25-January-2002
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Golf, a sport or a brand building tool

HT Golf 2002, Hero Honda Masters 2002, Women’s Era & ITDC’s Winter Golf 2002, the corporates have seemed to taken a fancy to Golf. Is this a passing fad or is it a tool that seems to be working for marketers?The phenomenal popularity of sports in general and Golf in particular as evidenced by the increasing amount of Golf events coverage on television and media and has led companies in all manners of industries to recognise the value as sports sponsorship as a powerful means of brand promotion.

Think for example, ITC relationship with Indian Open golf tournament. This has also, however, significantly underlined the need for realistic expectations from what the sport of Golf can help achieve and underlined the understanding of the sport in question. Two major players amongst other corporates in India, actively involved in sponsorship of Golf events in India are ITC and Hero Honda though other corporates and brands like Hindustan Times, Seagram’s, Woman’s Era, ITDC have also jumped in to capitalize on the growing potential of Golf as a medium. Seagram in the recent past has hosted the Seagram''s Blenders Pride Corporate Golf Masters tournament, the official qualifying event for the Indian entry to the World Corporate Golf challenge at La Manga, Spain. This is the second consecutive year that Seagram Blenders Pride has been associated with golf.

Golf is fast becoming a sport for the young. It is attracting the attention of the younger generation and the young at heart. And as a general extension, more and more companies are sponsoring corporate golf tournaments, where they invite some of their most valued clients and suppliers and are trying to build up a better relationship through golf. The reasons for this sudden boom are aplenty. Golf is the most relaxing as well as the most testing of all sports. A walk down the 18 holes amid the lush-green natural surroundings, free from the drudgery of daily life and tensions that are normally a part and parcel of any white-collar job, is just about the ambrosia one is looking for. Keeping the profiles of the participants in mind, the sport makes an excellent promotion vehicle for companies selling premium products. It''s just the segment they want to attract and no wonder companies like Mahindra-Ford, ABN Amro Bank, Bank of America, Birla VXL Ltd, Johnnie Walker, Shaw Wallace, AirTel, Hotel Hyatt, various airlines and even engine makers like Pratt & Whitney are spending quite a fortune on corporate golf nowadays.

Hero Honda Masters has become a leading event on Indian golfing circuit and this year the prize money for the fifth edition of Hero Honda Masters 2002 has gone upto US $ 300,000. Most corporate and marketing heads recognize and acknowledge the brand building opportunities that the sport offers. Mr. Pawan Munjal, Director & CEO, Hero Honda Motors Ltd., who is also the President of the Professional Golfer’s Association of India (PGAI) and the Vice Chairman of the Asian PGA tour says, “We are not looking on direct gains for promoting a product but yes it’s a good opportunity to promote a brand and helps build a positive high-level association and enhances relationships”

Ms. Mrinalini Gupta, VP Marketing, Hindustan Times, which is organizing HT Golf, echoes a similar opinion "Golf is a growing sport and it appeals to the ''Corpo Savvy'' segment, which is an important segment of our target audience” Today most of the companies are setting aside money for Golf related sponsorships as part of their marketing budgets. Mr. Atul Sobti, Sr. Vice President, Hero Honda Motors says, “Our total ad budget is 2% of revenues out of which annually Rs.3-4 crores is allocated for Golf”. Now that is a substantial amount considering the amounts spent on sponsorships of other events. Mr. Divesh Nath, Director, Woman’s Era who along with ITDC is organizing the Winter Golf 2002 also echoes a similar opinion “ Associating with Golf based events is an effective brand building exercise and most professional tournaments get coverage across the country.” He also adds “Every tournament offers relationship building exercise with different levels of people during the tournament”.

Due to corporates willingness to associate them with Golf a lot of professional management firms like Tiger Sports, IMG, Rashi and Percept D Mark have specialized into Golf related events and sponsorships. So how much money is required to hold a Golfing event? Ms. Mrinalini Gupta of HT says, “ It varies depending upon the prize money involved”. Mr. Digraj Singh, Sr. Vice-President, Tiger Sports Marketing elaborates further “ A Basic corporate tournament would take 3 to 4 lakhs, a large corporate tournament anything between 10 lakhs to 30 lakhs and a professional tournament could be as high as 50 lakhs "

To throw in more excitement during pro-ams and corporate golf days, a common ploy used by sponsors is to invite celebrities. So, there was former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen trying to hit decent tee shots during the recently held Hero Honda Masters tournament in New Delhi, while Omega, the Swiss watch makers, make sure that supermodel Cindy Crawford, a serious golfer herself, is present during most of their events. Hero Honda in the past had also got celebrities like cricket buff and commentator Harsha Bhogle to endorse Golf by his sheer presence at the tournament.

While corporate golf is all about fun, what makes them very special for professional golf is that most of the sponsors begin with the fun-filled corporate events, and then diversify into backing professional golf. For a pro-golfer, pro-am events are just about the right place to find a personal sponsor. Some of the prominent names which can be synonymously denoted as Corporate Golfers are steel supremo Russy Modi, liquor king Vijay Mallya, tea baron B.M. Khaitan, R.P. Goenka of the RPG Group, Shashi Ruia, NDTV boss Prannoy Roy, ex-cricketers like Kapil Dev, Roger Binny, wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani, off-spinners Erapalli Prasanna and S. Venkataraghavan, Gundappa Vishwanath. You also have Flying Sikh Milkha Singh’s son Jeev Milkha Singh, the only Indian pro to qualify for the highly competitive European Professional Golfers Association Tour, to name a few.

According to market analysts, golf has been identified as the fastest growing urban sport in India. Also the golf products market, a niche and quality-conscious market, is viewed by major MNC footwear and apparel giants as having great potential despite the fact that the size of the golf footwear market in India is a small 12-15,000 pairs per annum, with slow replacement cycles. In the golf apparel segment also these specialty brands face competition from substitute or semi-casual brands like Colorplus and Freelook, which have launched golf apparel lines. India has 1.50 lakhs active golfers and the total number of enthusiasts would be twice as much, making it a segment ripe with untapped potential.

One thing is very clear today, Golf is an opportunity, which the marketing professional can’t afford to ignore at all! It delivers a very niche audience comprising mostly of decision makers and people who have a very high influence in whichever environment they operate in and that too very effectively. So Tee off now!

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