Commentary > SportsBiz
Golf hazard in the press tent
LPGA's Sorenstam has everything to gain in men's tournament. Guys can lose big with their comments.
May 22, 2003: 9:41 AM EDT
A weekly column by Chris Isidore, CNN/Money Senior Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - When Annika Sorenstam tees off in a men's golf tournament Thursday, she'll have everything to gain and nothing to lose in terms of her future endorsements.

Her male opponents are safe, too, as long as they're out on the course. But when they wander into the press tent, they'll be in dangerous territory.

Sorenstam, by far the most successful woman golfer on the Ladies' Professional Golf Association tour last year with 13 wins, has been invited to play in the Colonial golf tournament by sponsor Bank of America. Even if she struggles and is dropped from the four-day tournament after two days, along with about half the field, she'll have raised her profile and likely her value to advertisers.

Annika Sorenstam's endorsement potential won't be hurt even if she misses the cut playing against men next weekend  
Annika Sorenstam's endorsement potential won't be hurt even if she misses the cut playing against men next weekend.

"We don't see a downside, however she performs," said Larry Dorman, spokesman for Callaway Golf, one of Sorenstam's sponsors. "Missing the cut will not tarnish any of her achievements or lessen her ability. It takes an awful lot of guts for her to do this. People will admire her regardless of the outcome."

Dorman said that just making the cut would be a considerable accomplishment for the Swedish-born Sorenstam.

She also doesn't have all that much to lose. Sorenstam has had one commercial for a non-golf product -- Michelob Light. While that gives her a better profile than other women golfers, it's a long par 5 away from where, say, an NBA star or even the tennis-playing Williams sisters stand.

For the men in the tournament, the issue isn't how they shoot, but how they talk. Golfer Fuzzy Zoeller still hasn't seen his endorsement career recover from a bad joke he made at the 1997 Masters' about Tiger Woods asking for fried chicken and collard greens.

"You know every reporter there will be looking for that statement," said University of Delaware professor John Antil, an expert on celebrity endorsements. "Out of every 50 statements there that are neutral the only ones you'll hear are the ones that are controversial or inappropriate."

Click here for SportsBiz column archive
Click here for sports coverage
Click here to email Chris Isidore

There's already some controversy stirred by remarks by Vijay Singh, who said he would quit the tournament rather than be paired with Sorenstam. On Sunday evening Singh withdrew from the Colonial, but he insisted it was because he was tired and needed a break, not because of Sorenstam. He also has backed off his earlier comment about Sorenstam a bit, although he continues to say that Sorenstam shouldn't play against the men.

Singh doesn't have much in the way of non-golf equipment endorsement deals, and his two equipment sponsors -- Cleveland Golf and Footjoy golf shoes -- did not return calls. Antil said Singh probably can survive that comment, but that any remark seen as off-color could end an endorsement career in a hurry.

"If you've got one of these guys endorsing your product," Antil said, "you're probably nervous about those kinds of statements."

As far as on-course performance, Sorenstam said this week she thinks she has a chance to win "if all the stars are lined up right." Antil said that with even a near-win, Sorenstam could catapult into the ranks of the most-sought endorsers.

Related columns
Burk not Masters' only headache
Sex in play in women's sports
Anna can keep winning off the court

Without that kind of breakout performance, she'll probably see some opportunities in campaigns geared to women, Antil said. But the major advertisers might still be nervous about using her, because some male fans will agree with Singh.

Male golfers who finish behind Sorenstam in the tournament probably won't lose endorsement power, according to Callaway's Dorman.

"Unless you're Tiger," he said, "a lot of major winners don't make the cut each week. That's golf."  Top of page

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus rally
Thanks for nothing, Corporate America
It's not just the economy, stupid
Trump suggests cars may be the next target for tariffs
Tiffany's booming sales send its stock soaring
Victoria's Secret customers are buying bras online ... and that's a problem

graphic graphic