This summer, many Americans caught World Cup fever, leading to record U.S. TV ratings for soccer. Meanwhile, two other niche sports in the U.S. seem to have lost some fans, but those fans who remain are worth marketers’ attention.
TV ratings for both professional golf and professional tennis declined significantly this summer. Ratings for the final round of the 2014 Masters Tournament were down 28% from 2013, the lowest ratings for the tournament since 1957, and ratings for the men’s final of this year’s U.S. Open tennis tournament, which wrapped last week, were down 32% from 2013, according to Sports Business Daily.
Ratings for Wimbledon have steadily declined over the past decade, dropping from 2.1 million average households in 2004 to 583,000 in 2014. When Wimbledon telecasts moved from NBC to ESPN in 2012, the number of average households that watched dropped from 1.4 million in 2011 to 719,000 in 2012, according to Nielsen.
While professional golf’s and tennis’s audience sizes might be just a sliver of the viewers that the “big four” professional sports attract, golf and tennis fans have another appealing characteristic for marketers: affluence. The majority of PGA fans are over the age of 55 and 27% have incomes of more than $100,000, according to Nielsen. Forty-three percent of PGA fans are more likely than average U.S. consumers to own second homes and 60% are more likely to own stocks or stock options. Thirty-five percent of tennis fans are between the ages of 50 and 69, and 14% are age 70 and over. Thirty-nine percent of tennis fans have income levels of $100,000 or above, according to Simmons Market Research and Experian Information Solutions Inc.
“Tennis and golf … tend to attract the upscale urban and suburban audience,” says Allen Adamson, chairman of North America at Landor Associates, a New York-based global strategic branding and design firm. Adamson’s research focuses, in part, on sports sponsorships. “There’s been some softness in the overall audience numbers for those sports, but they’re still very desirable because of that audience.”
In a bid to reach these affluent audiences, luxury brands such as Mercedes, Ralph Lauren and Grey Goose sponsored this year’s U.S. Open, Adamson says. According to Nielsen, the top PGA advertisers are Cialis, FedEx, Konica Minolta, Titleist and IBM.
In August, Coraopolis, Penn.-based Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. announced that it was cutting back on its golf offerings after its golf-related sales declined, a sign that golf’s sweet spot still lies among affluent consumers rather than in the middle class, Adamson says. “Super-high-end people don’t buy golf products from a retailer,” he says. “They usually buy where they play golf, at their clubs, or they know exactly what they want and they buy directly from the manufacturers online.”
Both tennis and golf will need more superstar players for their audiences to grow, says Tyson Webber, executive vice president of client management at GMR Marketing, a New Berlin, Wis.-based global sports marketing agency. Plus, both sports are competing against a worthy adversary in the niche sport category, he says. “As it relates to fan affinity, popularity, reach, scale and scope, it’s hard to compete with soccer globally, but there are valuable opportunities for all three.”
Adds Adamson: “Most brands have to worry about their sales, not only in one market, but in 20 markets, and if you can pull it off, soccer helps you get the most global coverage. But I don’t think either tennis or golf is in danger of disappearing. It’s hard to get affluent audiences, and tennis and golf provide unique opportunities to connect with them.”
To learn about soccer’s increasing popularity in the U.S., read “The Beautiful Game” in the September 2014 issue of Marketing News, available at ama.org/MarketingNews.