The rest of the world is starting to take notice of disc golf and its marketability.
Last week, Ledgestone announced Merrell as the presenting sponsor of the 2023 Ledgestone Open. Not only does Merrell now become the official shoe of the largest disc golf event on the planet, but the partnership marks the most recent example of an outside sponsor supporting disc golf in a major way.
When support comes in from outside the industry, it is known as a non-endemic sponsorship.
Mainstream sports like football, basketball and baseball, for example, have non-endemic deals flowing in constantly. Those sports have tremendous reach and gigantic audiences and are naturally attractive to advertisers. Disc golf, on the other hand, has historically lacked the numbers to back up its marketability.
Things have changed. Merrell understands that.
Merrell Disc Golf Shoes
“There are many synergies between disc golf and Merrell that made this partnership an easy choice for us,” said Ben Stark, Senior Brand Marketing Specialist at Merrell. “Merrell meets the unique footwear needs of disc golfers and we’re eager to get on the course to help athletes of all levels enjoy the sport and achieve their goals.”
Ledgestone tournament director Nate Heinold recognizes that bringing in a company like Merrell isn’t just groundbreaking for his event, but for the sport of disc golf as a whole.
“It is incredibly important for outside companies to get involved in the sport of disc golf, and for our players and fans to support those outside companies,” he said. “We want to continue to see growth in our sport, and this deal with Merrell is another step forward with getting disc golf more into the mainstream.”
As a part of the Ledgestone deal, Merrell will also be given advertising space on the Disc Golf Network, an exclusive disc golf media source operated by the Disc Golf Pro Tour. Along with Ledgestone, the DGPT has been another leader in bringing non-endemic sponsorship into the sport. The DGPT Vice President of Partnerships, Sean Jack, is excited by the amount of outside interest from advertisers.
“It shines a brighter light on the sport,” he said. “The more non-endemic sponsors you get, the more you can get on top of that. They produce each other.”
In 2021, Jack was a part of the deals that brought in L.L. Bean, Johnsonville and Guaranteed Rate to sponsor the DGPT Tour Championship. Those partnerships helped fund the largest payout in disc golf history with Nathan Queen and Team Ledgestone’s Missy Gannon each taking home $30,000 for first place.
They topped that yet again in 2022 with a deal to bring in Barbasol as the Tour Championship presenting sponsor.
“When we have non-endemic partners come into the sport it adds credibility to the tour, the events and the athletes,” Jack said. “When we added L.L. Bean, Johnsonville, Guaranteed Rate and Barbasol, people read about that and other marketers read about that. It makes them start looking at disc golf more.”
The Disc Golf Network has been a major reason why disc golf is peaking the interest of advertisers.
Jack and his team are able to provide statistics of significant annual growth along with consistent viewership numbers and demographics that give advertisers confidence that their target audience is being hit. In 2022, the DGPT hit 15 million views across their digital platforms and post-production partnerships.
“Five years ago I used to routinely say our views were missing a zero, but that has since changed,” Jack said. “15 million is a number that will peak the interest of any marketer.”
In the case of Barbasol, the heavy demographic of male disc golf consumers between the ages of 20 and 50 is the exact target audience they are trying to reach. With millions of viewers all but guaranteed to view the event, investing in disc golf makes perfect financial sense.
Most of the time, disc golf’s addictiveness markets itself with potential sponsors. UDisc’s 2021 Growth Report showed more than 17 million rounds were scored using the UDisc app alone, a number that increased in 2022 and is fueled by only a fraction of the total disc golf population. More often than not, non-endemic sponsors have someone within their marketing department or ownership who already loves the sport.
“Barbasol is one of the few deals I’ve done where it was strictly demographics and there was no disc golf connection,” Jack said. “For example, L.L. Bean’s director of digital marketing is a hardcore disc golfer in the Lewiston/Auburn area of Maine, which UDisc has ranked as the No. 1 place in the United States for disc golf.”
Each outside partner that invests in the sport puts another checkmark next to disc golf’s credibility and adds to the sport’s resume, like Jack said. The DGPT has set the standard and now Ledgestone is pushing things further forward with the addition of Merrell. It doesn’t matter which entity within disc golf is brokering the deal because each partnership continues the rolling of the ball which will continue to attract more non-endemic partners.
Merrell is a part of the Wolverine Worldwide family which is valued at almost $1 billion. The next sponsors to recognize disc golf’s marketability will continue to push into even larger financial realms until eventually one of the world’s big sporting corporations can’t help but get involved as well.
“Once someone like Nike or Adidas comes into the sport and even starts making discs, that’s only going to grow the sport,” Jack said. “Once that happens, everyone else will follow.”