Arnold Palmer was one of the best golfers of all time, but he was also one of the best marketers ever.
In his lifetime, he earned almost $7 million on the golf course. Off it? He made at least 50 times that.
Without Palmer -- and his agent Mark McCormack -- Michael Jordan, who often gets credit for being the father of modern-day sports marketing, never would have been Michael Jordan.
Corporate America was ready to turn MJ into what he became because, 30 years earlier, Palmer already was doing it.
It was because Palmer was so good -- his smile in print, his convincing tone in commercials -- that companies continued to align with athletes.
The ultimate testament to Palmer being the best? When his deals were up, competitors would pay more. A deal with Qantas airlines turned into a new one for United. A deal with Holiday Inn morphed into a bigger deal with upscale Westin. A tractor deal with Bolens wasn't renewed because Ford Motor Co. paid him more to endorse its cars and didn't want him competing with its tractor division.
In 1967, Palmer's appearance fee was $7,500 and his deal with Coca-Cola was $15,000.
Palmer deftly navigated the world of appearances and endorsements so well that as his rates went up -- and were pushed by McCormack, who founded the agency IMG -- the guys who followed him had a greater starting point. Just like on the golf course.
Today, when athletes turn pro, they or their agents trademark their names. Palmer trademarked his name, and that famous umbrella logo, in 1968.
His versatility landed him endorsements with companies in almost every sector. He endorsed Heinz ketchup on a steak, L&M filter cigarettes, Allstate insurance, Pennzoil motor oil, cardigans, dinner jackets and even Japanese robes.
That confidence didn't exactly exist when Palmer signed a deal in 1959 with Wilson requiring that should he give up golf he would have to return the clubs Wilson gave him.
Palmer didn't just pave the way and yield to today's stars. He never stopped marketing.
In the past 16 years, the value of his name was reaffirmed, as he was able to capitalize on the iced tea/lemonade combination that bears his name.
Palmer's name had been attached to the concoction since the late 1960s, but through a partnership with Innovative Flavors and Arizona Beverage Co., he capitalized on the drink.
In 2010, it hit $100 million in annual sales. In 2015, it hit $200 million, single-handedly eclipsing sales of the diet version of behemoth Snapple.
In the coming hours and days, it will be impossible for many to downplay Palmer's contribution on the golf course. What's remarkable is that his contribution off it might be more of a lasting legacy than what he ever did with a club and a golf ball.