Polo Golf’s sponsorships: An investment in authenticity

Some of the endorsements are obvious and in plain sight, like the long-term relationship with signature spokesman Tom Watson or the deal with world No. 1 Luke Donald.

Count Davis Love III, this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team captain, in that mix, too.

All three are naturals for Polo Golf, a division of Ralph Lauren, which like the parent company is defined by certain words: Classic. Timeless. Quality.

But Polo Golf’s investment in the sport goes far beyond signing PGA Tour players.

Since its founding in 1987, the division’s sponsorship and endorsement activities have established ties to the game’s cornerstones. And the portfolio is still expanding: Beginning this year, Polo Golf will serve as the official outfitter of the R&A, and just last month it announced a new collaboration with the Folds of Honor organization, which uses golf to raise college scholarships for children of military personnel.

Details of the new initiative are still in the works, but Polo officials are tentatively calling it Red Shirt Fridays – with a portion of proceeds of each red Polo shirt sold earmarked for the Folds of Honor.

“We want golfers and golf professionals on Friday, as a tribute to fallen heros, to wear a red shirt,” said Tom Nolan, senior vice president, golf and tennis. “We’re still kind of figuring out exactly how we’ll execute it, but we believe in the cause.”

Supporting organizations intrinsic to golf is a key part of Polo’s strategy. That explains its 17-year relationship with the American Junior Golf Association. It may not be as flashy as a deal with a marquee Tour player, but it’s just as relevant. So, too, is its official outfitter status with the U.S. Golf Association.

“When you look at the brands that we’re associated with, forget thematically what people think about them – good or bad, they all kind of have a similar vein,” Nolan said. “They’re authentic, and they’re American, minus the R&A, obviously.”

Those traits, Nolan added, dovetail into “the themes that Ralph Lauren created this company with… we draft off of (Ralph Lauren’s mission) in the golf division. There’s really no larger goal.”

Establishing such authenticity, he says, played a key role in spurring consumer acceptance of RLX – Polo Golf’s performance line that debuted in 2006.

“We saw that the marketplace was looking for a technology product, and the RLX was launched,” Nolan said. “I think there’s a misperception that RLX is designed specifically for one segment of the market. It’s not necessarily a younger audience. . . . If you want to wear something luxurious and dressy, and you’re going to go to the club for dinner, Polo Golf is a great option. RLX is more specific just for the golf course.”

Polo’s sponsorship efforts, however, go far beyond just bolstering RLX or even the entire golf division. Nolan declined to provide financial details, but says such marketing expenditures generate a return for all of Ralph Lauren.

“The thing that is so important to remember is the value of talking to the influencer – people do what influencers do,” Nolan said. “And if you think about successful people in business, a lot of them are passionate about golf. It’s the same person that’s our best customer at retail.”

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