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Nike and Callaway. Bridgestone and Buick. Lexus and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
When it comes to golf, some companies and brands are so ubiquitous that they have blended into the landscape, like the tees, fairways and greens.
But during the last three years, FedEx has tried harder than almost any company to stand out. Since 2007, the package delivery company has spent $44 million a year to sponsor the FedEx Cup, a full season of PGA Tour events culminating with a four tournament playoff series to determine the top men’s golfer.
In many ways, the sponsorship is similar to the Nascar Sprint Cup or the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour: an attempt by a major corporation to become one with an entire sport, not just a player or a single event.
But in other ways, the FedEx Cup is different. Golf is a more understated sport than Nascar or tennis in that it tends to keep sponsors’ messages muted or at arm’s length. Television commercials are low key, signage is more discreet and logos are modest.
The PGA Tour has golfers from around the world and its events are broadcast worldwide, both of which attracted FedEx.
“This appealed to us because FedEx is a global company, and we needed to communicate to our customers on a global stage,” said Kevin Demsky, the director of sponsorship marketing at FedEx, whose six year deal with the PGA Tour runs through 2012.
Demsky said FedEx earned positive return on its investment, but he declined to be more specific. Large corporations typically generate three or more dollars in new sales for every dollar spent sponsoring sporting events,
according to industry experts.
“It’s a way to get your name out there on a consistent basis without having to latch on to a particular player who might get in trouble, or a single event that Tiger might not show up to,” said Bob Dorfman, who writes a newsletter that analyzes athlete endorsements. “It’s insurance you’re going to get a lot of brand value for your dollar.”
Golf might seem an odd choice for FedEx. The company’s image is one of speed, while golf is known for its slow pace. But FedEx also promotes its reliability and consistency, traits that successful golfers need, said Bill Sutton, a professor of sports business at the University of Central Florida.
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During live telecasts and replays of Nascar events last year, Sprint’s name or logo was shown on screen for a total of 90 hours 6 minutes 21 seconds, according to Joyce Julius Associates, a sports marketing research firm. The Sprint name was mentioned 1,476 times during those broadcasts more than twice as often as the next brand, Toyota.
“Nascar is the top dog in terms of exposure,” said Eric Wright, a vice president at Joyce Julius, who added that the tally did not include Sprint’s name being mentioned on highlight programs or news broadcasts.
Still, FedEx is getting its money’s worth because the demographic of golf fans matches the audience it wants to reach. FedEx also gets to be associated with winning players,
even though it does not have an endorsement deal with a player.