BELLEAIR, FLORIDA | Name a bigger one. When you look at female athletes, there are only a few who drive the business needle. Serena Williams is probably the best known. She has a fragrance and an “S by Serena” brand of clothing, along with a slew of endorsement deals – Gatorade, Nike, Wheaties, etc. But in terms of businesses beneath her brand, what do you have other than licensing agreements?
Billie Jean King is iconic. But what’s the business built around her name?
Go down the list: Simone Biles, Lindsey Vonn, Katie Ledecky; you would likely sign all of them up as brand ambassadors, but building a business around them is another story.
There is only one female athlete who has built a brand that is more than a marketing tool: Annika Sörenstam, or ANNIKA as they present it in all the materials associated with arguably the greatest female golfer of all time.
Who would have guessed that at age 52 and 14 years removed from her last LPGA Tour victory, Annika, the shy girl from Bro, Sweden, would be the one-name brand defying the odds in women’s sports?
Today, she has her beverage company, Fizzy Beez, as well as her relationships with Callaway and LOHLA Sport. But she also has her name attached to the Rolex Annika Major Award, one of the most sought-after post-season titles in the women’s game, and the Annika Award, given every year to the best female college golfer in the country.
In addition, there are six junior tournaments in five countries bearing the Annika name. Every year they give more than 600 girls ages 8 to 18 from 60 countries a chance to compete, as well as meet and learn from the best who ever played. Then there is the college tournament, The Annika Intercollegiate, which attracts the top college teams in the nation.
Now, Annika has her own LPGA tour event. Beginning in 2023, the Pelican Women’s Championship will be The Annika driven by Gainbridge at Pelican. If that sounds like a mouthful, the men who helped put it together, Dan Doyle, owner of Pelican Golf Club, and Dan Towriss, the president and CEO of Group 1001, the parent company of Gainbridge, called it “The Annika” within minutes of the start of a news conference for the event on Tuesday.
“We were happy to rename the tournament,” Doyle said. “So next year it will be The Annika. We’re also going to increase the purse to $3.25 million, which for us – we started three years ago, and we started low and we kept climbing every year – but this was a huge jump. Last year we went from $1.75 to $2 million this year. Along with Dan (Towriss) and Annika, we’re jumping up to $3.25 (in 2023), which I think will be one of the highest purses on the LPGA Tour minus the majors and the (CME Group Tour) championship.”
Towriss piped in and said, “To be with Annika, it’s a dream come true for us. To be partnered with her, with the greatest player in the modern era of the LPGA, and then with Pelican and the Doyle family, we really see a chance to not just increase the purse, but to really grow the sport, invest in the sport, increase engagement and activations. Like I said, it’s the dream team for us to come together at this venue. We can’t be more excited about 2023.”
“I think what Annika has meant to women’s golf and her impact on the sport, we’re so proud to be associated with her, and we think the order of the names is exactly right.” – Dan Towriss
Gainbridge, a financial services company, already had an event on the LPGA Tour, the first full-field tournament of the year called Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio. So the company moved away from an event colloquially known as “Gainbridge” to one called The Annika, a throwback to the days of the Hope and the Crosby. Even the Arnold Palmer Invitational is now referred to by most as “Bay Hill.” The only remaining event named for a player is the AT&T Byron Nelson, or “the Nelson” as most people call it.
“When I first talked with Annika and (her husband and business manager) Mike (McGee) about this opportunity and we came up with different names, (naming the event after Annika) was the right thing to do,” Towriss said. “I think what Annika has meant to women’s golf and her impact on the sport, we’re so proud to be associated with her, and we think the order of the names is exactly right.
“We’ll get out and activate. Gainbridge will get its due. But this is about Annika and what she’s meant to the sport. That is certainly the way we wanted it.”
Sorenstam heard all this. Then, in the soothing voice of a political master, she said, “We’ve worked hard to get my name on a tournament because I really want to continue my partnership with LPGA, continue the legacy of giving back, and continue to grow women’s golf.
“When all these pieces were laid out, it was like, ‘How do we put them all together?’ I love what Dan said. They want to make the sport better. With this facility (at Pelican), with the Doyle family, they are very female friendly and just so welcoming with the hospitality – it’s just really nice walking around here, talking to the players. They’re excited we’re here.
“This is somewhat in our backyard. To continue to be part of the LPGA with people that dream big and share the same vision is really important.”
Then Sorenstam paused for a second before saying, “This is, I wouldn’t say another trophy for me, but it’s close. It’s a different type of trophy. Nowadays that’s what I play for. And this certainly belongs at the very top.”
You find yourself leaning in as she speaks, not just listening but engaging with her on an emotional level.
And that’s when it hits you. There’s a reason Annika is the biggest and best one-name business brand in women’s sports. It’s her.
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