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Wearing $2 million on their heads

Golfers’ clothes rake in a different kind of green - but the left’s worth more

July 07,2010
The professional golfer’s outfit is much more complex than it appears. Each piece of sportswear - from golf shoes to their hat - represents a different sponsor, and together they make up a map to how much the golfer is worth.

And a cursory look at the typical Korean golfer shows their monetary cachet is finally keeping pace with their growing international fame, as sponsors line up to buy the rights to place their logos on local athletes.

“Imagine a golfer’s sponsorship fees add up to 100,” said Kim Won-seop from the Korea Baseball Organization who used to work for IMG, a sports managing and marketing agency. “The hat makes up 60, the top left side of the shirt, 20, and the rest including waist and shoes, 20,”

IMG is the management company that represents Korea’s most renowned golfers, including Choi Kyung-ju - the first Korean to win a PGA Tour title - and Yang Yong-eun, the first Asian male to win a major last year at the PGA Championship.

For a right-handed golfer, the most expensive advertising spot is the hat, of course, followed by the front left spot on the shirt. According to industry experts, when the player grips the golf club, the right side of the shirt tends to be covered by the left arm, both before and after the swing has been completed.

In Korea, it’s generally the case that the main sponsor stitches its logo on the hat as well as on the left side of the shirt, while the right side is usually occupied by an apparel company. For hats and sleeves, the left side is considered more valuable for advertisers than the right, because when a player prepares to putt, the television camera pans from left to right, and the left sleeve is caught best on camera.

Yet the conventional rules seem to be changing, according to industry sources. There are no specific regulations set on advertising in the golf industry, and the overall market is growing, with firms competing for cloth space. This scarcity promotes creativity, and ads are now being stitched in new places.

PGA Tour title winner Choi Kyung-ju, who wears a Korean flag on his hat, has said colleagues have asked if his country is sponsoring him instead of a corporation.

Even when he played in the 2010 Masters recently, tying for fourth with Tiger Woods, whenever Choi was shown on the television screen, there was the Korean flag shown on international television, which industry officials said provided an invaluable promotion for Korea the nation.

According to the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, each golf victory is worth up to or more than 400 billion won ($327.2 million) worth of trade.

But Choi didn’t put a Korean flag on his hat because of mere patriotism - he actually had no other choice, as his contract with the sports brand Nike had terminated and he wasn’t able to find another main sponsor as big as the multinational brand.

At the Masters, on the right side of his shirt and sleeves, Choi wore an SK Telecom logo (a sponsorship worth around $1 million), and on his left breast he had the Superior logo, but could secure no sponsor for his hat.

“Choi wanted more than $2 million from his main sponsor for his hat, but there wasn’t anyone who could afford him that much,” said an official. “So the player had thought it would be better to put on a Korean flag than to leave it empty.”

It’s been said that IMG, Choi’s management company, did send proposals to local firms doing business in the United States to sponsor his hat, but Korea’s global firms often tend to prefer sponsoring American players as they think it is better for their image in attracting local consumers.


By Sung Ho-jun [angie@joongang.co.kr]



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