Every little spot pays off for pro golfers

Every year, Golf Digest lists golf’s top earners, on and off the course. Not surprisingly, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson topped the last list, followed by several of golf’s greatest: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman. Although tour winnings can be worth several million dollars a year, it’s the logos golfers place on their collars, shirtfronts and hats -- and other sponsorship deals -- that can bring in tens of millions of dollars per year in earnings.

For example, according to Golf Digest, here’s what a player might earn from deals on the front of a golfer’s hat and the left side of a shirtfront:

“These might go for $250,000 to $2 million annually for a regular tour member, $125,000 to $500,000 on an LPGA or Champions Tour player, and $25,000 to $50,000 for a Web.com Tour player, agents say. A logo on the side of the hat or collar could be worth $5,000 on the low end to $200,000 for PGA Tour players.”

Some players piece together as many sponsors as they can in order to maximize their earnings. A Nike player like Tiger Woods or Jhonattan Vegas, however, agrees to logo exclusivity in exchange for compensation equal to what they could earn doing it piecemeal.

Woods and Mickelson, the top two players off the course, earned $62 million and $38 million last year, respectively.

Of course, the key to making money off the course is winning. Agents told Golf Digest that endorsement fees can quadruple when a player is winning tournaments or when he makes the Ryder Cup team. Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson, at Nos. 2 and 4 on the PGA money list currently, seem poised to end the year with higher earnings on and off the course.

Last year, McIlroy was 11th on Golf Digest’s top earners list, with $5.9 million in off-the-course earnings. During his recent PGA Championship win, he wore sponsor Jumeirah Group, a luxury hotel operator, on his hat and left chest, Oakley on his shirt mid-chest and on his belt buckle, and Spanish bank Santander on his left shirt sleeve.

Bob Dorfman, an executive vice president at Baker Street Advertising and author of numerous marketing scouting reports focused on professional sports, says McIlroy’s “PGA win showed he has a Tiger-like ability to dominate.” No doubt that will mean more sponsorships.

Going into 2012, McIlroy already had a stable of endorsement deals, including Jumeirah Group, Oakley, luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet, and Santander.

Jordan Zimmerman, founder of Zimmerman Advertising, says McIlroy could catch up to Woods in off-the-course earnings.

“McIlroy is the boy-next-door brand. The I-want-my-son-to-be-him brand. That gives you an unbelievable opportunity with the mothers and dads and will also bring kids into golf earlier,” Zimmerman says.

Watson also appeals to the younger crowd.

“Bubba Watson [is] a man-of-the-people golfer, extremely likable and charismatic,” said Dorfman.

Watson is covered in a number of sponsors when he plays, much like McIlroy. Watson sports a hat with Ping on the front and energy company Schuco on the side. He wears Travis Mathew apparel, with logos on the left chest and right side of the collar. His shirt also has an eBay logo on the right sleeve and a logo from watchmaker Richard Mille on the left sleeve.

Golf Digest estimates Watson brought in approximately $2.3 million last year. This year, before winning the Masters, he added a deal with Motorola Mobility. After winning the Masters, his agent said the golfer was entertaining new deals with several global brands.

Dorfman says Watson’s “down-home appeal makes him a good fit for more all-American companies like Home Depot, Black & Decker, GM or Ford cars and trucks, or a fast-food restaurant like KFC or Burger King.”

For a little fun, Dorfman says, “There’s always Hubba Bubba bubble gum.”