Why The Ryder Cup Is A Sports Marketing Phenomenon

There's golf, and there's the Ryder Cup. Like nothing else in golf, it dominates the headlines, courts controversy, ignites social media, and draws in millions of non-fans. So how did what started as a low-key exhibition match in the 1920s, and which was dying by the 1970s, become a sports marketing phenomenon?Re-invention

The Ryder Cup heralded a trend which has shaped modern sport: the creation of new and re-imagined formats. Consider for example the huge success and influence of the Rugby World Cup (born in the 80s), football’s Premier League and Champions League (the 90s), cricket’s Twenty20 and IPL, and most recently eSports. And there are many more.

So it was with the Ryder Cup. Following years of predictable and overwhelming US victories over a hopelessly outmatched GB & Ireland team, by 1977 the event was on its last legs. But from 1979, at the inspired suggestion of Jack Nicklaus, GB & Ireland became a European team to make the matches more competitive. And the rest, as they say is history.


Three players, who will all cast giant shadows over this Ryder Cup, stand apart for their marketing impact on golf: the recently-passed Arnold Palmer, who with Mark McCormack as his salesman, led golf into the TV era and made it a big business; Tiger Woods, the sport’s first truly global icon whose impact was only truly felt after his disgrace and withdrawal; and Seve Ballesteros, who transformed the image and appeal of European golf in general and the Ryder Cup in particular.

When Nicklaus made his suggestion, Seve was the inspiration. Seve duly became the talisman of the new European team and inspired its first game-changing victories over the US in the 80s. Brilliant, charismatic and fiercely competitive - especially against the US players and galleries who he perceived as having slighted him early in his career - Ballesteros was, above all, the catalyst for the Ryder Cup phenomenon.

Less Is More

One of modern sport’s biggest problems is that there’s too much of it. Football, rugby, tennis, cricket and golf have all over-supplied the marketplace, leading to numerous negative on- and off-field consequences. This has increasingly worked to the Ryder Cup’s advantage. It doesn’t come around very often, but when it does, we can’t wait. Less is more.


Above all, one thing makes the Ryder Cup unique, and uniquely powerful as a sports marketing platform: it’s Europe versus the USA. This happens nowhere else in major sport. Nowhere else in major sport does Europe compete under one banner, uniting hundreds of millions of fans. And it’s easy to forget that sport in the USA is a primarily a domestic affair: the dominant US team sports are all contested internally. As a sporting nation, the USA rarely ventures outside its borders onto the world stage. So when it does, it’s rare, and it’s a big deal. And this year, owing to Brexit, this particular aspect of the Ryder Cup story is even deeper. 


The Ryder Cup is entirely unlike the golf that we see week-in, week-out, all year. Tournament golf is selfish: the Ryder Cup is selfless. It’s not about individuals playing for a title and multi-million-dollar purses. It’s about teams, about playing as part of the team, about winning for the team, and – that extreme rarity in big sport - not about money – the players aren’t paid to appear in the Ryder Cup. And this works and appeals in a way that tournament golf simply doesn’t. It gives the fans a team to support, and that in turn makes it bigger, more emotional, and easier to buy into than tournament golf - remember, worldwide, it’s team sport that rules. It makes heroes and villains out of players who, ordinarily, we don’t passionately support or oppose in their tournament identities. And most importantly, it works because it demands of the players something different, something other, something somehow better.


It may not like it, but the fact is that sport thrives on controversy. Controversy creates today’s stories, history’s legends, and tomorrow’s fans. Controversy sells. And since the Ryder Cup was re-invented in 1979, and the contest became as close and as fierce as anything that sport can offer, controversy has never been far away: indeed, it’s become part of the event’s DNA and its global appeal, part of why we look forward to it, part of what we expect from it. Golf’s traditionalists might not like it, but that controversy is another element that sets the Ryder Cup apart, and gives it an appeal way beyond golf’s normal fan base and media footprint.

Defining Moments

We regularly tune into marquee events hoping to see something special, only to be disappointed. But since its re-invention, the Ryder Cup has never disappointed. Every event since 1979 has produced unforgettable, defining moments that have entered the sporting – not just golfing – pantheon. And this isn’t about serendipity: it’s the inevitable result of the contest being re-invented to become even and unpredictable, blending perfectly with a format which is guaranteed to produce moments that win – or lose – the match. The Ryder Cup is a perfect sports marketing template.

Synergy is working with Standard Life Investments, the first Worldwide Partner of the Ryder Cup.

Why ‘Top-Down’ Is Better Than ‘Bottom-Up’ For Sponsorship Activation

Most brands know sponsorship is a great way to connect their brand to their target audience. Most brands strive to deliver great campaigns and activation programmes. Most brands take a ‘bottom-up’ approach to campaign activation.

Most brands get activation wrong.

But why is this the case? More importantly, what can brands do about it?

In simple terms, a ‘bottom-up’ approach to campaign activation mean brands (in this order);

1. assess the sponsorship rights at their disposal

2. devise the activation programme to leverage those rights

3. articulate a campaign idea to connect the activation programme to the brand

Successful brands take a ‘top-down’ approach to campaign activation, meaning they start from the top with the campaign idea itself. Only once the blue sky thinking has been done do thoughts shift towards grounding the central thought that connects the brand, asset and target audience to an activation programme and sponsorship rights. Implementing a ‘top-down’ approach is the only way to ensure the brand tells a rich, compelling and coherent  campaign story.

P&G’s “Proud Sponsor of Mums” tagline has proven fertile ground for rich campaign ideas to connect brand, target audience and asset. The brand’s global sponsorship agreement with the International Olympic Committee enables the company to take the Olympic Games to the 4 billion consumers worldwide served by P&G brands. For the London 2012 Olympic Games, the consumer goods company created the Nearest & Dearest platform, which supported the friends and family of all the athletes in the lead up to and during the Games. Rights were also put to use in “The Hardest Job is the Best Job - Raising an Olympian” campaign, which brought to life the dedication of mums across the world in helping their kids to achieve their dreams. First channelled through digital and social media platforms 100 days before the Opening Ceremony, P&G leveraged every asset available to maximise the sponsorship.

Capital One’s overarching campaign idea to 'Support the Supporters' has been brilliantly brought to life through their sponsorship of the Football League Cup, better known as the Capital One Cup.

Stepping in to help Shrewsbury Town FC increase stadium capacity ahead of their Round 4 tie against Chelsea is a good example of an activation linked to a great campaign idea.

By its very nature, the League Cup presents Capital One with the opportunity to activate at each round of the competition, helping the brand uphold its commitment to supporting the supporters through great activation.

In another example from this season, Capital One gave Nottingham Forest FC fans the chance to unite and pay their respects to Forest legend Brian Clough. The Nottingham-based credit card company handed out over 1,000 iconic green jumpers, synonymous with ‘Cloughie’, to all Forest fans who travelled on the official supporters’ coaches to White Hart Lane for the tie against Tottenham Hotspur in September. The gesture struck the right chord amongst players, fans and media alike, helping reinforce Capital One’s commitment to the territory of ‘Support’.

BMW’s “Drive Your Team” campaign and branded content at the 2014 Ryder Cup also stood out for all the right reasons. Not only did it represent the brand and product values, it gave fans high-quality, emotive and selective content to help them get behind their team by using the #DriveYourTeam hashtag.

BMW has a rich heritage in golf, sponsoring the Ryder Cup and other golfing tournaments, and kicked off their 2014 Ryder Cup campaign with an integrated social activity, including a full BMW Twitter profile takeover, followed up with a fan competition (for Ryder Cup tickets), live content and finally rounded off the activation with a series of celebratory images.

Brands that put first things first and implement a ‘top-down’ approach will continue to create the showcase campaigns of tomorrow. Ultimately, brands which go ‘bottom-up’ may risk ending up at bottom of the pile…


Ryder Cup 2016


Create global awareness of Standard Life Investments' worldwide partnership with the Ryder Cup and deliver their 'World Class As Standard' message.



We signed up the 2016 Ryder Cup captains, Darren Clarke and Davis Love III, as brand ambassadors alongside a suite of performance and golf experts to align Standard Life Investments with world-class talent. Our ‘World Class As Standard’ campaign uses our ambassadors through a series of short videos released online, exploring the importance and the impact of analysis, performance and potential on ultimate sporting success.
We launched the Standard Life Investments 2016 Ryder Cup ‘World Class As Standard’ campaign in New York in April. Our approach was focused and targeted, providing exclusive access to American and international media, Standard Life Investments' media partners as well as an intimate and exclusive event for CEOs. The captains and senior executives from Standard Life Investments rang the Nasdaq opening bell in Times Square live on American TV with our campaign content streaming on a live billboard – exposure usually bought for $100,000.



So far, we have generated 124 pieces of coverage across both sides of the Atlantic, conducted 15 media interviews with captains generating an AVE of over £1m pounds. The launch sparked conversation across 17 countries and over 10 million social impressions. Keep an eye out for our series going live in the run up to Hazeltine in September at


British and Irish Lions


As an existing client, Standard Life Investments called on Synergy when an opportunity arose with the British and Irish Lions. The property was there for the taking, but how could Synergy ensure the deal was raising awareness of their business globally, inspiring both their people and their clients, as well as develop a fully integrated launch plan for the partnership?



After negotiating the contract on behalf of Standard Life Investments the Synergy team began working on a launch plan. Across the month of January we delivered a press event, a series of internal staff and client events spanning the UK, created and delivered internal marketing materials and signed-up five legends of the game to represent Standard Life Investments as brand ambassadors.


The launch was met with excitement from the rugby audience, Standard Life Investments' staff and their clients alike. The press event delivered over 350 pieces of coverage across 14 countries. Standard Life Investments' digital channels saw over 14,000 social interactions with over 3,000 posts on Twitter alone driving more than 6,000 visits to the microsite from 51 countries worldwide. Through the ATL it is estimated that almost 25% of the UK population was reached, whilst the internal events with our rugby ambassadors engaged around 3,000 colleagues on the launch of the partnership. We’re off to a flying start but it’s only the beginning – keep your eyes peeled over the next 18 months for more to come!