Michelle Wie's U.S. Open Win: Bigger, Better Endorsements Could Follow
The golfer’s first major title could immediately boost sponsorship deals as the focus now turns to whether she can keep winning, sports marketing experts say.
Michelle Wie’s first major title, a victory in the U.S. Women’s Open on Sunday, instantly boosted the value of her existing endorsement deals and could produce richer, better deals in the near future, sports marketing experts tell The Hollywood Reporter.
Going into this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, Wie already boasted more than $10 million in endorsement earnings, according to various reports, but the value of her existing deals with sponsors like Nike and Kia instantly increased on Sunday night.
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"Those with whom she has a sponsor relationship, I would think that relationship is a lot more valuable [Monday] morning than it was on Wednesday [before the tournament started]," says Harvard Business School sports management professor Stephen A. Greyser.
Lila Brown, head of PR for sports and entertainment media and branding company Ella Bee Media Group and social media director for WISE (Women in Sports and Events, a national resource for resource for professional women in the business of sports), concurs, noting that the sponsorship deals Wie signed when she was younger will truly pay off now.
"A lot of sponsors signed with her and stuck around, but now she can really benefit them and their investment will pay off," Brown says.
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Indeed, Wie will likely ink deals with sponsors in categories where she’s not already represented and the value of her existing deals may be renewed at higher values, Greyser says.
Michael Bilello, CEO of marketing and PR firm Centurion Strategies, predicts that Wie will sign larger deals over the next three months, perhaps for holiday advertising campaigns.
"Whenever you win a title so steeped in history it legitimizes your brand, but also gives her more value as an ambassador of the sport and anything she gets behind. The energy that she is harnessing off this win can immediately be converted into monetary deals," Bilello says of Wie. "I assume we will see some of her larger deals made within three months. It will be interesting to see how she is utilized going into the holiday season. A lot of them are planned and shot over the summer … I think she is relevant in everything—from food and beverage to traditional luxury brands, or tech brands because of her age."
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In terms of how much she can earn from endorsement income, there isn’t much to compare Wie to.
"There’s not been a major female in golf for a long time, so it is hard to say if she can make as much as Tiger Woods, as there’s been nothing like her before," Brown says.
But she notes that the Korean-American golfer has more opportunities, both internationally and with products that appeal to women, like beauty and fashion lines.
Greyser argues that there are a number of factors that make her a desirable commodity for brands, including her highly visible, big win, her likability, her personality and her youth.
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"So I would have only one question, other than confirming some of these things, if I were in endorsing potential, which is whether there’s any problem in her background that would lead me to worry that my co-branding effort with Michelle Wie would come back and hurt my brand."
As Woods demonstrated, off-the-course behavior can affect an athlete’s marketability, but Wie’s success on the course will also affect her brand.
"The personality and all the rest of her package was very marketable and perhaps the missing ingredient there was consistent success on the field of play,” says Engage Marketing founder and chief solutions officer Kevin Adler. "So I think this is certainly a step in the right direction, and if she can continue to package her great personality, her youth and all the other aspects of her brand essence and now integrate winning athlete into that, I think that’s a great formula for success."
If she continues winning, Adler says, she can integrate that into her brand image.
"I think it’s less about one win and more about whether this becomes the start of a pattern of having the characteristic of winner into her brand essence," Adler says. "A win is an important step in the right direction and puts her in the conversation. Consistently being at the top of the leaderboard, or at least on the leaderboard, is equally important."