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Athlete Couple Branding: Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki

Athlete Couple brandingNorthern Irishman Rory McIlroy’s victory at The Honda Classic but a few weeks ago solidified his ascent to the top – for the first time in his career he moved to the number one spot in the Official World Golf Ranking. On the other side of the country, Dane Caroline Wozniacki, former world number one in women’s tennis, outlasted Sofia Arvidsson to advance at Indian Wells, where she went on to lose in the fourth round.

The Power Athlete Couple

Golf and tennis are two sports that have always enjoyed a casual relationship, from sharing in the exclusivity of the country club to the very mechanics of the game (both require a high-degree of hand-eye coordination) these two endeavours seem to belong together. Essentially, it seems a natural fit that two young and successful high-profile athletes from both of these backgrounds would find one another.

In fact, this is not the first time that tennis and golf have been linked on the course and on the court – it was not long ago that golfing great Greg Norman and tennis star Chris Evert were jet-setting around the world and basking in the glow of each other’s mutually athletic company. Are Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki the new “Greg and Chris” and what does this mean for their personal brands?

The Rory McIlroy Brand

athlete couple brandingAlthough only 22, Rory McIlroy has an impressive resume that not only demonstrates past successes but also shows that he has plenty of promise and barring a Tiger-esque mishap (one can only hope that he would have a better crisis management strategy), a long career ahead of him. Since turning professional in 2007 at the age of 18 McIlroy has played in thirteen major championships, winning one and finishing Top Ten five times.

As important as it is to one’s athlete brand to be number one in the world, it is no less important to have something else to bring to the table. In Rory’s case, it is his “likeability.” Rory is the boy next door, the kind of guy you would get a post-round drink with – his easy manner, humility and sense of humour are all qualities that come naturally and effortlessly. Following his Honda Classic victory, when asked by media how long he could stay (at the top of golfing world), he answered quite cheekily after looking at his watch, “about fifteen minutes?”

McIlroy is also an adept social media user, taking to Twitter to share with his 925,437 followers that he is:

“At the @AAarena to watch the @MiamiHEAT tonight! Can’t wait to see @DwyaneWade, @KingJames and co in action!” – Rory McIlroy Twitter

Or that he is about to tuck into his “mums homemade chilli! #awesome.” Rory is just like us! In essence, this is the core of his brand. McIlroy is an accessible superstar, one that remains humble while enjoying his new status at the top of the world. Notwithstanding his demeanour, his looks play a large part in his branding as his curly mop of hair and boyish freckles are more mischievous and “chummy” than symbols of Adonis-like masculinity. Rory McIlroy’s affability can certainly appeal to the men in the audience (he is the world number one, afterall) but what about the women? Enter Wozniacki.

The Caroline Wozniacki Brand

athlete couple brandingMaking her debut on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour in 2005, Dane Caroline Wozniacki  took the tennis world by proverbial storm when she rose to the top of the Women’s Tennis Association Tour rankings despite the fact that she has never won a Grand Slam. Although now at number four this has in no way affected her marketability. She has endorsement deals with Sony Ericsson, Oriflame, Turkish Airlines, Adidas by Stella McCartney, Yonex,, Compeed, and Danish investment company Danske Invest.

Just last year Wozniacki was named by Forbes as the second highest earning female athlete in the world, raking in a total of $12.5 million with $6.5 of this coming in from sponsors and appearances. She is undoubtedly a good-looking woman and in the quest for not only endorsement dollars but also for ROI from these endorsements this has been a veritable asset.

Additionally, Wozniacki has shown on numerous occasions that she may also have a personality: last January she ran her own press conference as she mocked the reputedly boring questions of the tennis press by asking herself questions and giving the usual, trite responses. Her monologue was praised as a clever and savvy attempt to set herself apart but was also criticized by several members of the tennis elite as demonstrative of a lack of respect. More recently, Wozniacki attempted (and failed) to prank Maria Sharapova.

Wozniacki is appearing to have fun on the circuit while increasing her marketability and in a world of numerous powerful players, setting yourself apart is what gives you the commercial upper-hand. Most importantly, by no means is her image suffering as a result of her relationship with the former world number one golfer.

The McWoz Brand

Athlete Couple brandingCaroline Wozniacki enhances Rory McIlroy’s brand and vice versa. Prior to his relationship with Wozniacki, much of McIlroy’s press was competition-related and most people were not concerned with the golfer outside the confines of the course.

Undoubtedly, since his epic meltdown at last year’s Masters in Augusta, McIlroy has proceeded to take centre stage in the golf world. The question that was on everybody’s lips, “how will he come back from this,” has been answered and as a true testament to McIlroy’s skill and mental fortitude, he did and he continues to do so. Adding a striking, athletic blonde to the equation has certainly done no harm as it has increased media and public attention threefold.

Early photographs of the two kissing or holding hands were snapped up by tabloids and fueled greater worldwide public interest in the Northern Irishman. More recently, as evidenced by McIlroy’s stint on the court against Sharapova, Wozniacki has only served to enhance the American public’s attention and adoration of the golfer.

McIlroy has on more than one occasion promoted Wozniacki through his Twitter account as he implores his followers to give Wozniacki’s numbers a boost “Ok tweeps, my beautiful girlfriend @CaroWozniacki is very close to 300,000 followers. Let’s see if we can get her to 500,000 ASAP!!” and shares his Valentine’s Day plans “Hope everyone has a great valentines day! I just had a lovely dinner with my valentine @CaroWozniacki :).”  Social media has allowed them to play out their romance in the public eye and given the voyeuristic nature of the digital era that we live in, this is exactly what people want.

Their most recent endeavor has involved a highly-publicized “no junkfood” bet that McIlroy lost, resulting in a new diamond bracelet for Wozniacki. As of late, McIlroy has stated that he will be taking a bit of time off to watch and support Wozniacki as she plays in the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, effectively giving not only the event increased publicity but also Wozniacki. Their cross-promotional strategies have worked brilliantly thus far and to the masses they are suddenly much more interesting – are these not the consumers purchasing tickets and merchandise?

Are there any other examples of power athlete couple branding that deserve some recognition? What do you think of Rory and Caroline together and how it helps their brands? Leave us your comments here or tweet us!


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8 Responses to Athlete Couple Branding: Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki

  1. sportsnetworker April 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    @mariakhopwood thanks for the RT maria!

  2. sportsnetworker April 3, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    @melidavies thanks for the RT’s on a few articles Meli!

  3. sportsnetworker April 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    @jdwelzel we agree that brands should capitalize on this! too premature though? bad news if they break up

  4. MeliDavies April 3, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    No problem. Enjoyed the reads. RT @sportsnetworker @melidavies thanks for the RT’s on a few articles Meli!

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