Sport Golf

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Recession proof

Published 09/03/2010 | 05:00

Despite dropping in the world rankings Padraig Harrington remains recession proof Photo: Getty Images
Despite dropping in the world rankings Padraig Harrington remains recession proof Photo: Getty Images

AT first glance, the outlook is gloomy for Padraig Harrington. After a nondescript start to 2010, the Dubliner has tumbled eight places down the world rankings and out of the top-10 to No 13.

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A fortnight ago, newspaper headlines suggested he'd been 'dumped' by one of his sponsors, Bank of Ireland.

And Harrington hasn't won in the international arena since clinching his third Major title, the US PGA Championship, at Oakland Hills 19 months ago.

Though a tournament victory is long overdue for the 38-year-old and, clearly, he was disappointed not to pick up a win on Tour in 2009, Harrington remains one of the biggest earners and most powerful players on the world stage.

Indeed, the decision of Bank of Ireland not to take up an option to renew their three-year deal with him when it expires in May illustrates how Harrington has outgrown a shrunken sports sponsorship market in his homeland. The bank effectively hit the jackpot when they struck that three-year deal with Harrington in May 2007 -- and more power to them.

Within weeks, he'd win the Irish Open; within a couple of months, he'd become a Major champion at Carnoustie and within a year and a half he had carved a place in history as the only European to win the British Open and US PGA in the same season.

Swelled

Though bonuses reputedly swelled the cost to Bank of Ireland from €250,000 to €400,000 per annum, the deal still represented massively good value. To embroider one's name on the front of a multiple Major champion's sweater and to have him for three corporate outings a year would normally cost several times that amount.

For example, when Harrington entered a three-year 'partnership' with leading US business consultancy FTI in November 2008, there were no objections when the media guesstimated its worth at $12m.

Yes, that's $4m a year, for which FTI get pride of place on the front of the Irishman's hat, several opportunities each year for staff and clients to play golf with the affable Irishman, and his participation in a range of TV and other media promotions.

Several weeks later, Wilson Golf revealed that they called in their parent company to help drum up the reported $10m it took to extend their association with Harrington for another 36 months and establish him as an ambassador for the company's sports equipment on a par with Roger Federer.

There had been bigger offers from other golf club manufacturers, Harrington revealed, but after developing a close working relationship with Wilson and their design team over the previous 10 years, he was keen to keep this bond intact.

Other new sponsors have arrived since then. Early last year, Harrington signed a contract to wear Footjoy shoes and gloves for a sum conservatively estimated at €1.5m over three years. He was recruited last summer as the representative for Citizen Eco-Drive watches on the world's fairways.

The logos of Marquis Jets, GoS Networks (an Irish offshoot of 'the late' U4EA, in which Harrington and Dermot Desmond invested) and its Californian associate, Barracuda, a big player in the internet and computer-systems security business, have also appeared on Harrington's shirt in recent times.

Recession may be biting especially deep in Ireland but there's no shortage of demand internationally for a multiple Major champion's time or space on his apparel. Since both are limited, Harrington's backroom team at International Management Group's London office strive to ensure that he (and they) get the optimum return.

So the price Bank of Ireland struck in the full of their financial health in May 2007 most likely wouldn't serve as an opening gambit now. They certainly got on board with Harrington at the right time and, given their current parlous state, their exit is well-timed too.

Explaining how Harrington's sponsorship portfolio has been built, Adrian Mitchell of IMG said: "With regards to potential new arrangements, there are always ongoing discussions taking place, as Padraig is a very appealing ambassador to many brands, who may be looking to leverage off his unique brand attributes, both personal and professional.

"However, there's an optimum number of partners in order to ensure that the rights are not diluted and that the commitments are managed to ensure that Padraig's on-course perform-ance is not impacted."

Though Harrington has been loyal to Ireland and home firms like Kartel, who have manu-factured his golfing apparel throughout his career, there is no specific initiative to find a marquee sponsor to replace Bank of Ireland in his homeland, according to Mitchell. "Given Padraig's global profile, certain brands look to match their attributes to his, whether it be an Irish brand with global business interests or a brand based overseas looking to expand," Mitchell explained.

"Therefore, any future partners could be based in various countries. In addition, any new relationship would need to fit alongside Padraig's current family of sponsors and match with his brand profile."

Harrington banked just €14,006 on Sunday as he finished the Honda Classic tied 40th with Rory McIlroy on four-over, 17 strokes behind hugely impressive winner Camilo Villegas. Yet that modest sum pushed his career prize-money over the €34m mark, and he has earned at least that much again off the course during 12 years as a professional.

Since he's signed contracts worth well in excess of €20m in the 19 months since his US PGA win, it's safe to assume that Harrington's gross income is approaching the €70m mark, with little sign of his corporate value being eroded by recession.

When asked last week about the effect of the global economic downturn on golf sponsorship, Harrington explained: "What's really happened is there's been a separation in the player profiles. Essentially, it's harder for the middle-ranked player and really tough for the lower-ranked player to find sponsorship.

Cautious

"New sponsors are there but they're a bit more cautious about where their dollars are going and actually this has worked to the benefit of the higher-ranked player. What you find in sports is that fewer people are being focused on and it's tougher for the guys in the middle of the pack. I suppose it's an incentive to get to the top."

Harrington conceded last summer, during the depths of the world financial slump, that some of his personal investments inevitably had taken a hit.

"I'm like everybody else, looking at investments down 25pc and thinking, hey, that's okay," he said at that time. "The greatest plus for somebody like me compared to someone on the street is that I have an earnings potential going forward and would be able to sustain ups and downs.

"The fact that I've got positive income streams is always a good way of looking at it. As somebody said to me the other day, birdies are recession-proof."

Harrington certainly hasn't made enough birdies recently but he's a notoriously slow and skittish starter. With just 10 rounds of stroke play and 17 holes of match play under his belt since his return last month from an eight-week midwinter break, it's too early to judge the Dubliner's form.

He could play well at Doral this week but the acid test for Harrington will come at next month's US Masters. All inquests into his golf game should be adjourned until Sunday night at Augusta.

Irish Independent

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