What Does the Natalie Gulbis Swimsuit Photo have to do with Charity?

The Bleacher Report is “the US’s 4th largest sports media site with 25+ million monthly readers,” and they reported that the release of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit photo of Natalie Gulbis was timed perfectly for a charity that is auctioning a chance to caddy for Gulbis in an upcoming LPGA event.

So I went to the site for the charity and to my surprise it is not some big foundation but an Episcopal School in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Not only do they have Natalie Gulbis but they also have the chance to be a caddy for David Love III as an auction item. You can bid on them or “pay now” for one of them for $8,000.

What a windfall from a PR perspective for the Charity. Now, you might think it makes sense that Davis Love is listed because he lives in Charlotte and went to the University of North Carolina (in Charlotte) but how did they get Gulbis?  She did not go to school in North Carolina and she lives in Arizona. I was hoping it was just plain luck on the part of the charity but my curiosity got the best of me and I wanted see if I could find the connection.

Well according to another article I found at Golf Channel, “A parent who works in sports marketing for consulting firm McGladrey helped secure the caddy spots.”  And, surprise, surprise, both golfers are clients of McGladrey.  Also according to the Golf Channel Article, the head of the school said they did not know that the SI swimsuit edition was coming out.  Really?  The parent who works for McGladrey surely knew when their client’s swimsuit press would be released.

Whether or not the school was aware of the PR windfall they were about to get this week is probably not that important; but it is clearly not as big a “coincidence” as the original article in the Bleacher Report implied.  That makes me a little bit sad because it would have been fun if it were just luck. Wouldn’t it have been great if Gulbis was just a person supporting a charity she liked (i.e. no sports marketing connections).  Maybe that makes me a bit of an idealist but it would have been a better “story.”

I guess the only other outstanding question is will someone pay $8,000 to spend 4 or 5 hours to caddy for Gulbis?  We will most likely find out after February 25 (the night of the charity event) — I’m sure the folks at McGladrey are already working on the press release.

Natalie Gulbis — This Golfer is a Savvy Marketer

As a professional golfer, Natalie Gulbis has only one win (in 2007) since her rookie year on tour in 2002.  Her current world ranking is 121.  If you just look at her golfing statistics you would not assume she was one of the LPGA’s stars; but she is – mostly because of her off-course skills in marketing her personal brand.

This week she is in the news because she is in the 2012 Sport Illustrated Swimsuit edition and she isn’t exactly wearing a swimsuit. She is wearing body paint that looks like she has on a swimsuit.  Her photo is very sexy and there is even a video of the photo shoot.

The debate that has come up is whether or not this is good or bad for golf.  My question is why is this up for debate?  Professional athletes have been posing provocatively for years in magazines and commercials (did people question if David Beckham’s Super Bowl underwear ad was bad for professional soccer?)

Anyone that follows golf knows that Gulbis has always marketed herself as a “sexy” golfer.  She did her own swimsuit calendar for years, she posed in FHM  (For Men Magazine) which is most known for it’s “sexiest woman in the world” list.  She is often referred to as “a golfer, model, and business woman.”  She seeks out publicity – she was even on the Celebrity Apprentice (not a high mark in my opinion).

One thing I do find interesting is the LPGA banned her 2005 calendar from being sold in the “souvenir shop” at the 2004 US Women’s Open.  Yet, in 2008, she received the William and Mousie Powell award, given by the LPGA, to the player who “in the opinion of her playing peers, through her behavior and deeds best exemplifies the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.”  For me, what her peers are saying is that Gulbis does a lot of good for the reputation of the tour.  Why?  I think because she also brings a lot of positive press to the tour via her charity work, her promotion of golf, and the exposure from the number of major bands she represents (i.e. MasterCard, Lexus, Adidas, Taylor Made, Sky Caddie, etc.)

As a woman, do I want women athletes objectified? — Of course not.  But the reality is that sports are in the entertainment business and like any field of entertainment, sports needs savvy marketers –like Gulbis — to create awareness of their sport.  You can approve or disapprove of her recent choice but you can’t discount her ability to bring awareness to her sport.  And since the LPGA needs more fans, they need “personalities” like Gulbis — At least until they have another Annika to promote.