The average professional golfer earns two million dollars in winnings on the PGA Tour. So how did Jordan Spieth in an off year make around 32 million in 2019 when he was 51st on the money list? Let’s figure it out. This is the business of golf.

This week, we sat down with Barry Hyde. He’s a golf industry powerhouse and known in the industry as the manatee. Barry is the EVP of brands and properties at Wasserman where he has his fingerprint on all things golf. 

He has a distinguished background in the sports marketing industry. He’s had his hands all over some of the greatest known activations at MasterCard as the BP of sponsorship and he was the first ever CMO at the USGA where he was responsible for the organization’s first corporate partnerships. So he is the perfect person to walk us through how these golfers are getting sponsorships, what it looks like and what they’re doing to keep them. 

The following excerpt has been edited for space. Check out the full interview here.

Alyson Johnson: What’s the deal with all the extra deals and how are these sponsorships of athletes actually happening?

Barry Hyde: Golfs got a very special distinction in that golf is a sport of business. It’s a participatory sport in a way that it can be used in business and brands don’t miss that. It’s not surprising to have endemic companies involved in bowling if you make bowling balls or in golf, baseball, or anything else. Golf gets exciting and lucrative for the athletes.

They know that it’s a good way to communicate on a business to business basis and that’s why when you look at golfers, the brands you’ll see are often insurance companies, banks, and consumer brands. Also, brands want to communicate with business decision makers. 

From my earliest days at the PGA Tour in the late 80s, through my years at MasterCard, the USGA, and now on the agency side, that hasn’t changed. The demand for PGA Tour athletes and LPGA players has been pretty consistent and continues to grow.

Adam Grubb: It’s a long road to get somebody signed up and have them involved in a brand. It isn’t as simple as “Hey, here’s money, put our logo on your shirt and have a good day.” There’s a lot of steps that go into that process. Walk us through a bit about that and how that process even works?

BH: Well that process really starts with getting to know your talent clients. For instance, I represent Gil Hanse, the golf course architect. Golf is unique in that many of the talents around golf aren’t necessarily all the players. You have architects, club professionals, broadcasters, that are talent as well. Sticking to players for the moment, you need to understand what their objectives are and what their comfort level is with doing certain things.

If they don’t want to do a lot of corporate stuff, don’t want to learn about the companies, don’t have a natural interest in it, then you might push them towards a comprehensive clothing deal from head to toe with an Under Armour or Nike but there’s not going to be space for a lot of logos or other integration. 

And then you have to keep watching it too because people change. Just in the 15-20 years that I’ve worked with Tom Watson, his comfort level with the corporate community and his comfort with speaking at events has grown so the athletes evolve. What they might be interested in at 18 could be different than what they’re interested in at 22. So you got to do your homework. You’re not throwing stuff up against the wall, you’re not just trying to sell deals willy nilly.

You’re trying to learn about the brands and you’re trying to learn about the athletes and hopefully coming up with the right combinations. It’s not always going to be a perfect match. When that happens, you work a little harder and you try to make it up to both the talent and the brand and find something that works better.

AJ: Say that I own a yogurt company. I’m just launching, I’m really excited, I’ve got my social channels ready to go. I happen to spot a player eating my brand of yogurt. I’m not going to be able to google them and get their phone number and reach out to them. What do brands do next once they’ve decided, that’s authentic to my brand, it’s the right characteristics, I like how they present themselves. Then what happens?

BH: Usually the brands do have, if not a sports marketing agency, they have an advertising agency. My biggest customers aren’t necessarily brands directly. My biggest customers are in some cases, my competitors. I work for Wasserman and I work very closely with CAA, Mitsubishi Electric, Farmers Insurance. 

The CEO of that yogurt company will usually contact his or her internal head of marketing who will contact an agency. And once you get into the agency culture, they know how to make those contacts. That’s how it works.

That’s actually a real example too. We were contacted by a yogurt brand. They saw our client at the time, she’s since retired, Suzanne Patterson loved her or her Chobani yogurt and they contacted us. So, you look for all those authentic things and you try to figure out what people do. 

AG: These top superstars are always the ones that are talked about making the most money after they play golf and or they make more money in endorsements than they do actually winning tournaments because they are superstars and whatnot.

But it’s those other players that are coming up that are trying to make a living in golf that need those sponsorships, need those partnerships, and need that financial backing from companies more than ever. Do you see that relationship sometimes more fruitful for brands than the top guys?

BH: Yeah, it certainly can be. There’s a lot of benefit for a brand to grow with a player. It shows loyalty, the player becomes much more comfortable with outings and the things that the brand does, they learn more when it comes time for renewal. The athletes know and the agents know that this brand was here before I ever won. Now I’m comfortable with them, they were loyal to me, and I’m going to show some loyalty. That definitely exists.

AJ: One of the things that I’m seeing that gets me personally really excited about the growth of the game as a whole is there are a lot of sponsors that have been activating on the men’s side that are now switching over and and really showing an interest both in the LPGA and in the Symetra Tour. Tell me a little bit about what you’re seeing with the trends of these sponsors putting some more money and more effort behind the women.

BH: 20 years ago Alyson, when you were running marketing for the PGA Championship at Baltusrol and I was still at MasterCard, it was still a novelty then to have five or six women in a120 person corporate shotgun. Now it’s not. Now you might have 25 women in an outing of 120 people. 

Golf as a participatory sport has gotten much more diverse so that’s been great. Now there was a gap between that and what companies were doing. Some leaders out there, MasterCard and RBC, have always had teams of golfers that represent them both male and female. But the brands that are just coming into it now know it is their responsibility to have female and male athletes to support golf at the grassroots level and to support youth on course. I really think that companies see themselves as really supporting the game as a whole and not just supporting the PGA Tour anymore and the tour’s done a nice job of helping in that effort, certainly from a diversity standpoint. 

I’m really happy to see that trend. I was happy to see the comments and announcements and I’m happy to see some of the bigger brands like KPMG and others supporting the game and I am also happy to see the LPGA and the USGA and the RNA taking women’s championships to golf courses that we want to see on TV. It was an absolute pleasure to watch Popov win at Royal Troon.

Key Takeaway: Golf sponsorships are not as simple as just handing a player money to wear your logo. It goes much deeper than that and the importance of finding the correct player for your brand cannot be overlooked. 

Listen to the full interview here to go even further behind the scenes of golf sponsorships and how they come to be!