Whitler was a decorated high school golfer recruited to play at the US Air Force Academy. As a former chief marketing officer, she has expertise in marketing strategy, marketing performance and brand management. Whitler is the co-author of the book “Athlete Brands: How to Benefit from Your Name Image & Likeness,” available now at Amazon for pre-purchase.
“A common measure we look at with celebrities is something called a Q-score,” Whitler said. “It measures two things – level of awareness and level of affinity. A player’s awareness is one thing, but the big question is, how do fans and sponsors feel about the decision that these players are making? Does it strengthen or weaken fan/sponsor affinity for the athletes who have left the PGA to play in LIV?”
In his statement announcing the suspension of those PGA players participating in the LIV tour, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, on first reference, called the new tour the “Saudi Golf League.”
That wasn’t by accident, Whitler said.
“What it appears he is doing is connecting the LIV brand with Saudi Arabia,” she said. “Why? There is a concept called ‘spillover,’ which occurs when the reputation and associations of one brand spill over onto another brand.
“Much of the reporting has been on Saudi Arabia’s link to 9/11 or the Khashoggi death, suggesting that the players are being paid in ‘blood money’ accordingly, LIV is trying to borrow the positive equity of the players to strengthen their brand. However, the negative associations of Saudi Arabia being portrayed in the media and through comments by other players and fans can have a negative spillover effect on the players.
“So Monahan appears to be trying to link the defecting PGA players to Saudi Arabia.” Not the players to LIV, but the players to Saudi Arabia.”
Though Mickelson, a World Golf Hall of Famer who has publicly accused the PGA Tour of being greedy with its media-rights policy, reportedly accepted a $200 million offer to join the LIV, he has lost most of his corporate sponsors because of the move.
The same has happened to other top US golfers such as Johnson and DeChambeau.
“That’s the downside of the brand effect,” Whitler said. “Rather than being seen as a great American ambassador or a great golf ambassador, these players could be viewed as supporting Saudi Arabia and its questionable human-rights track record. So there’s the possibility that fans don’t like that and it reduces a player’s appeal in the United States, where the PGA is such a big brand. If the appeal is reduced, then that can potentially reduce their sponsorship value. What happens outside of the US may be a different story.”