Athletes today are viewed not only as heroes on the field, but as cultural and fashion icons to the American people. We live in a culture where they are revered more than just feet on the playing field, and where their style of dress, brand endorsements, and even political opinions can influence consumer behavior. The monetary weight that they carry is not too shabby either. The world’s 100 highest-paid athletes, according to Forbes’ list, earned over $3 billion in total from June 2014 through June 2015. With the amount of money that is invested into these athletes each year, they must be doing something right for the brands and sports they represent.
It may come as a surprise that a number of pro golfers made the list, including Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and 26-year-old Rory McIlroy. While this is beneficial to golf’s image, the sport is not on par with the up-and-coming consumers it desperately needs to attract: Millennials and Gen Z.
According to the National Golf Foundation, more people are trying out the game for the first time; however, overall golf participation is declining, with numbers more in line with the pre-Tiger Woods figure we saw in 1995.
The golf culture does not identify with Millennials, who have an affinity for outdoor activities and shared experiences such as camping, climbing, and backpacking; nor does the sport distinguish itself among the Gen Z’s, who like team sports as well as activities that mirror the Millennials. Golf as we know it is quite the opposite of what these generations seek, and contradicts a number of their core values:
1) The game is slow and, for generations who are used to everything being a click away, it’s far from being instantly gratifying.
2) It’s expensive and, for generations that need to be spending conscious, the cost to play and purchase/rent the necessary apparel and equipment is not of value to them.
3) Golf is exclusive, and for generations who want to be inclusive, paying to have the privilege of an exclusive membership is not of interest.
4) Its rules are too complex, which is unappealing to these generations who want a minimal amount of rules.
5) There is a lack of diversity in golf, as the CEO of the PGA of America said himself, in contrast to the Millennials, who are the most diverse generation ever and have embraced diversity like no other generation.
We’re seeing Millennials like Rory McIlroy engage and succeed in golf, but this type of testimonial alone is not enough to breathe new life into the sport. The key to winning as a sports brand today is to make fashionable products, particularly footwear and streetwear, for the Millennial and Gen Z generations. Though applying this to golf is a challenging task, golf brands and retailers need to keep this trend top of mind when figuring out how to boost participation for their sport.