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Sorenstam Could Go to Market After Colonial

March 20, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

There may be only one more question Annika Sorenstam needs answered now: Where does she sign?

Sorenstam's marketability could reach new heights after she he arrives in Fort Worth to play the PGA Tour's Colonial tournament in May.

The buzz continues about her plan to play in the event with the male pros.

"The media attention, I knew it was going to be a big deal," said Mark Steinberg, Sorenstam's agent at IMG. "But I didn't know it was going to be such a huge deal as it has become. And it's getting louder.

"I'm surprised. Her play and the level of interest and attention she has generated is something no one could have seen."

It would be a mistake to underestimate the potential impact on the marketplace of Sorenstam's playing at Colonial, according to Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports & Celebrities, a company that helps match athletes with advertisers.

"It's win-win for her," Williams said. "If the cynics don't expect her to play well, the advertisers will understand because she's stretched the boundaries. It won't hurt her at all. But if she plays well, makes the cut, it could really, really help her. And if she contended, it would be one of those perception-changing moments in sports, to a lesser degree like Jackie Robinson becoming the first African American to play baseball in the major leagues.

"Her recognition factor that comes out of this event will really rise with all consumers," he said.

Burns estimates Sorenstam's annual endorsement income at $1 million to $2 million, which is in the top 10 of female athletes, but far behind tennis players Venus and Serena Williams and Anna Kournikova.

But Sorenstam has already begun cashing in. Two weeks ago she signed a two-year endorsement deal with Kraft Foods North America. She will wear the Kraft corporate trademark on her golf shirt and display the logo on her golf bag. Sorenstam also will be involved in advertising, promotions and marketing programs, besides making personal appearances on behalf of the company.

Steinberg, who hailed the deal as a natural because of Sorenstam's fondness for cooking and Kraft's sponsorship of the first LPGA major of the year, says he is shopping for more endorsements.

"But they have to be strong, long-term brand relationships," Steinberg said. "She's not one to just capitalize on all the one-off deals that come across my desk."

Kraft joins Sorenstam's impressive portfolio of business associates that also includes Callaway Golf, Mercedes-Benz, Cutter & Buck clothing, Rolex watches, Oakley eyewear and Golf magazine.

Said Steinberg: "She's doing all right."

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