Golf deal pays off for Ford
Multimillion-dollar sponsorship of affable Mickelson enhances automaker's image.
By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News
Julie Jacobson / Associated Press
Ford signed a lucrative endorsement deal with Phil Mickelson just before the golfer captured high-profile wins at the Masters and PGA Championship.
Win on Sunday, sell on Monday
Automakers have embraced golf as a way to reach upscale buyers. Some examples:
• Phil Mickelson signed with Ford just before his career took off with two major wins and a growing fan following. Ford also sponsors events on the PGA Tour and the Champions tour.
• Tiger Woods renewed his five-year deal with Buick last year. Woods rates high with consumers but some think his youthful image is not an ideal fit for Buick, which has an older customer base. Buick is also the major sponsor of four PGA tournaments.
• Cadillac was a major sponsor of the Ryder Cup golf matches last year in Bloomfield Township.
Ford Motor Co. is getting good mileage from its sponsorship of Phil Mickelson.
During the golfer's televised triumph at the PGA Championship Monday -- his second major tournament win in two years -- the automaker's logo received more air time than a John Daly drive.
As part of a multimillion-dollar, five-year sponsorship deal, the affable athlete wears the familiar blue Ford oval on his golf shirts.
While Ford can't quantify the relationship's effect on sales, it has enhanced the company's image.
"He gives us a tremendous amount of exposure in winning circumstances," said Marty Collins, general marketing manager for the Ford brand.
After crosstown rival Buick signed a sponsorship deal with Tiger Woods, Ford went shopping for a star golfing partner of its own.
But the automaker wasn't looking for just anyone.
"We do a bit of research and try to match ourselves up with someone we feel comfortable with, someone who's going to look the part with the Ford brand," Collins said, adding Mickelson was a clear choice.
"His values and principles, when it comes to family, line up so well with Ford," he said.
Mickelson didn't disappoint -- even when he skipped the Ford-backed Doral Open in 2003 to attend the birth of his third child and first son.
Since then, he's won the Masters and several other PGA events, attracting galleries that rival the heyday of Arnold Palmer -- golf's first TV idol.
But celebrity athlete endorsements don't guarantee marketing success, said Paul Lavoie, chief creative officer of Taxi Inc. -- a New York ad agency.
"They have to have relevancy," Lavoie said.
"I don't want a goalie talking to me about banking. Buying a car is a complex thing. The best way to sell cars is through content and creating desire. Once that's set, you can bring in celebrities."
While impressed with Mickelson's achievements, Lavoie -- whose company has worked with NHL superstars Jarome Iginla and Markus Naslund -- isn't sold on the golfer's star power.
"He's got that nice-guy image, but he doesn't have any 'bite' to him," Lavoie said. "If he were selling golf balls, I'd buy them."
But consumers are buying into the association between Ford and Mickelson. A Ford Web site featuring the golfer attracted nearly 700,000 visitors, Collins said.
Of that total, 250,000 requested information about Ford vehicles. And nearly 400,000 entered a contest to play in a foursome with Mickelson, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and NASCAR star Dale Jarrett.
Mike Bernacchi, marketing professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, said Mickelson is a rare breed because sports stars as endorsers are on the way out.
"There are very few anymore that are credible," Bernacchi said, adding the risk/reward ratio seems to be getting higher with athletes. "We saw what happened to Kobe and McDonald's."
The family-oriented fast-food chain backed away from Kobe Bryant after the L.A. Lakers star was accused of sexual assault. The charge was eventually dropped, but Bryant's squeaky clean image was stained by the incident.
Woods has shown flashes of temper -- something that can make sponsors nervous. But in addition to his Buick sponsorship, Woods has a lucrative contract with sporting goods giant **** and American Express.
Mickelson and Ford declined to disclose financial terms of their deal, but experts estimate it is between $2 million and $10 million.