On the course, Annika Sorenstam and Tiger Woods are similar. They've both had stretches of amazing dominance, turning themselves into household names (even on a first-name basis).
But off the course, it's an entirely different story. This year, Woods will earn about 15 times more than Sorenstam in endorsements.
Woods' deals with blue-chip companies such as Nike, Accenture, Buick, American Express, Disney and Tag Heuer will put nearly $90 million in his pocket in 2005. Sorenstam's endorsements with Callaway, Cutter & Buck, Mercedes, Kraft, Rolex, Oakley and ADT, among others, added up to only $4.65 million in deals in 2004, according to Golf Digest.
"In general, it's more difficult to sell a woman golfer than a male golfer," said Mark Steinberg, who represents both Woods and Sorenstam. "But, with Annika, we don't have enough time and space on her person to accommodate everything that is coming in. We're turning things away."
Although advertising on Sorenstam and her golf bag is almost completely sold out – Kraft has committed millions of dollars and Callaway has locked her up (at a reported $1 million a year until 2010) – most of the companies who sponsor her don't feature her in many national advertising campaigns as the companies associated with Woods have done.
So what it is about the ultimate winner in women's golf? What's so unappealing about someone who has won six of eight tournaments she entered this year and has a chance to be the first golfer – male or female – to win the Grand Slam in a calendar year?
Marketers say it starts with the state of the organization Sorenstam is a part of.
"They've made a lot of progress over the last couple years, but the LPGA is still number three within golf behind the PGA Tour and the Senior Tour," said Bob Williams, president of Burns Entertainment and Sports Marketing. "So Annika is still very much playing in a niche sport."
Williams said Sorenstam is then hurt by the fact that she has yet to find a bona fide, consistent challenger.
"There needs to be a rivalry," Williams said. "Great rivalries in women's tennis made the WTA and its players more marketable. In the men's game, it's the big four [Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods] that have been responsible for driving interest."
Other marketers point to the fact that a dominant athlete won't necessarily be the best salesperson.
"No one would say that Annika is not a good person, but she definitely lacks that 'it' factor," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "She's not that excitable."
Steinberg says that Sorenstam's Cutter & Buck line of shirts, skirts and dresses is selling well and that his client is already actively designing golf courses across the world that will forever be known as her courses. But sports marketer Jeff Chown says "she has yet to show that she has the dynamic personality to attract and influence consumers."
"Brands love athletes who win," said Chown, managing director of The Marketing Arm, a sports and entertainment consultancy firm. "But there's another necessary ingredient. Joe Namath won with a flair. Muhammad Ali won with great charisma."
Chown said he still thinks Sorenstam has value, particularly to the companies that want to be branding in front of the demographic that watches LPGA events.
"She'll definitely get a company a lot of TV time," Chown said. "She's always going to be a prominent entity in the telecast and on the SportsCenter highlights."
Despite her 62 LPGA titles and nine major championships, the 35-year-old Swede is somehow fighting to stay top of mind on the women's golf marketing scene. It's LPGA beauty Natalie Gulbis (no titles), not Sorenstam, who will be featured on a reality show on the Golf Channel next year, and Sorenstam's collectibles are hardly selling for a premium. Take your pick – an autographed photo of Lorena Ochoa (three career titles) or an autographed Sorenstam golf ball. Each costs $99 on Upper Deck's Web site.
And while Sorenstam is winning now, marketers are said to be salivating over the possibility of future dominance in the form of 15-year-old Michelle Wie. If Wie – who finished three shots behind Sorenstam at the LPGA Championship two weeks ago – legitimately challenges the men on the PGA Tour one day, companies are said to have lined up deals that would double the total of Sorenstam, who missed the cut at a PGA event in May 2003.
Said Williams: "If Wie plays full time against the men, it would be a very intriguing marketing angle for companies. She'd be breaking down barriers that have never been seriously challenged in any major professional sport."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org