Michelle Wie Wins, Now What?
In October 2005, Michelle Wie was the talk of the world. This teenage golfer would not only beat the women, she would one day beat the men, we were told.
With this hope, Wie signed big endorsement deals with the likes of Nike and Sony.
But things didn't turn out so well for the phenom, as her career soon became defined by injury, a couple meltdowns and management changes.
With Wie, now 20, winning her first LPGA tournament yesterday, there's perhaps hope that her name could turn to gold again.
"I have to give her a ton of credit," said Eric Adelson, author of "The Sure Thing: The Making and Unmaking of Golf Phenom Michelle Wie,"which hit stores this year. "She has overcome a lot. She could have given up a million times."
Adelson says that it's important to understand that Wie is still really young, even though she has been in the public eye for so long. At 20, Annika Sorenstam, who went on to win 72 LPGA tournaments, hadn't even won her first, Adelson noted.
"It's shocking she's only 20," said Dr. Bill Sutton, professor and associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida. "It seems like she has been in our marketing conscience for 10 years. I think she made some poor decisions, the people that represented her weren't realistic at times, but now there's a win. The question is, will she be more like Anna Kournikova or more like Annika Sorenstam?"
Wie's lack of success has certainly taken her somewhat out of the endorsement picture.
She plays in Nike clothes with a Nike driver, irons, wedges, putter and ball, but she hasn't appeared in commercials like Tiger Woods. Nike Golf spokesperson Beth Gast said the company would put ads in Golfweek and Golf World to celebrate her first victory.
And she isn't as prominent of a spokesperson for Omega watches, which also counts Michael Phelps and Sergio Garcia as endorsers, perhaps due to her lack of picking up the winner's checks.
As for Sony , Wie didn't thank the company among her sponsors after she won on her Twitter feed.
Sutton says that Wie's sponsors - which SportsBusiness Daily said have paid out to the tune of some $50 million so far - likely will continue to be conservative in the near future.
"I think they'll take a wait and see approach," said Sutton, who is also principal of Bill Sutton & Associates, a sports revenue enhancement consultancy firm. "Some of that has to do with the economic climate. But much of it has to do with the guarded optimism that comes along with waiting to see if she has turned the corner and actually starts paying dividends."
Adelson, who says Wie's victory was her biggest achievement since making the cut in a men's event in Korea in 2006, believes the next step Wie has to take to become a marketing icon again is to string together a series of wins.
"The next big news can't be her just winning another tournament," Adelson said. "It has to be something like winning three in a row."
She probably won't turn into the women's version of Tiger Woods, but Adelson says she can still be a superstar in the sport, which needs a boost after a bunch of tournaments lost their sponsorships.
"She's still the best hope for women's golf," Adelson said. "I love Morgan (Pressel), Paula (Creamer) and Lorena (Ochoa), but when they win, they don't move the needle. When Michelle won, it was news. I mean, she managed to get into the conversation right before Brady took on Manning in Sunday Night Football."
Sutton takes a different view.
"Golf is a different type of game," Sutton said. "It can't just be Michelle. If she wins like Tiger, she's going to need the equivalent of Phil Mickelson to make sure there's a rivalry."
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