Arnold Palmer was one of the greatest golfers of all time, but he was also one of the greatest marketers of all time.
During his lifetime, he earned nearly $7 million on the golf course. Outside of that? He did at least 50 times that.
Without Palmer – and his agent Mark McCormack – Michael Jordan, who is often credited as the father of modern sports marketing, would never have been Michael Jordan.
Corporate America was ready to turn MJ into who he is because, 30 years earlier, Palmer was already doing it.
It was because Palmer was so good — his imprinted smile, his convincing tone in commercials — that companies continued to align themselves with the athletes.
The ultimate proof that Palmer is the best? When his bids were up, competitors paid more. A deal with Qantas Airlines has turned into a new one for United. A deal with Holiday Inn morphed into a larger deal with upscale Westin. A tractor contract with Bolens was not renewed because Ford Motor Co. paid him more to endorse its cars and did not want him to compete with its tractor division.
In 1967, Palmer’s appearance fee was $7,500 and his contract with Coca-Cola was $15,000.
Palmer navigated the world of appearances and endorsements so deftly that when his rates rose — and were pushed by McCormack, who founded the IMG agency — the guys who followed him had a better starting point. Like on the golf course.
Today, when athletes turn professional, they or their agents register their names. Palmer trademarked his name and that famous umbrella logo in 1968.
His versatility has earned him endorsements from companies in almost every industry. He endorsed Heinz ketchup on a steak, L&M filter cigarettes, Allstate insurance, Pennzoil motor oil, cardigans, tuxedos and even Japanese dresses.
This trust did not exactly exist when Palmer signed an agreement in 1959 with Wilson requiring that if he gave up golf, he would have to return the clubs Wilson had given him.
Palmer didn’t just pave the way and cede to today’s stars. He never stopped marketing.
Over the past 16 years, the value of his name has been reaffirmed as he capitalized 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 reached $100 million in annual sales. In 2015, it reached $200 million, eclipsing the sales of giant Snapple’s diet version alone.
In the hours and days to come, it will be impossible for many to downplay Palmer’s contribution on the golf course. What is remarkable is that his contribution could be more of a lasting legacy than what he ever did with a golf club and ball.