Golf, despite the transgressions of its highest profile player, is still viewed as clean, wholesome and healthy. Cycling, on the other hand, continues to be seen as something else, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

"How is it that golf, a moderately popular game, is the best-paid?" comedian Wil Anderson, host of The Gruen Transfer, a show on the ABC that examines all that's good and not so good about the advertising industry, asked Wednesday night.

"Because
it's played by white, middle-class men, in the richest countries in the
world," responded one of the regular panellists, Russel Howcroft of
advertising agency George Patterson Y&R.

"It's not
necessarily a rich-person's sport," Howcroft said, "but it is more
wealthy than your average sport. It is for upper middle-class people who
love spending money on themselves, because in the main, they're
selfish."

Sounds pretty close to your demographic of weekend
cycling warriors or at least a large chunk of 'em, which explains why
cycling has being touted as "the new golf" for the past 5-10 years.

Professional cycling, however, is nothing like professional golf.

Apart
from a great deal less pain and suffering, the top golfing pros earn
far more than their cycling counterparts. To have made Forbes
magazine's 2011 athletes' rich-list, where earnings from salaries,
bonuses, prize money, appearance fees, licensing and endorsement income
were aggregated for the period May 2010 to May 2011, the minimum to make
the top-50 list was US$18.8 million.

Since Lance Armstrong left the building, no pro cyclist comes close – or even half that.

Tiger
Woods, who made less than $1 million from actual tournament results –
he is currently ranked 50th in the world – still came out as the highest
earner, pocketing $75 million. Here last week in Sydney for the
Australian Open, he was reported to have made a cool mil or so just for
showing up – four times what the actual winner, Greg Chalmers, made for
his sporting prowess on The Lakes greens.

Compare Chalmers'
prizemoney, who trousered A$270,000 for four days' work – but probably
spent 15 hours or less either hitting the ball or walking with his caddy
– with the 450,000 Euros (approx. A$600,000) Cadel Evans earned for
winning this year's Tour de France, which took him 86 hours, 12 minutes
and 22 seconds over 23 days to complete the 3,430.5 kilometre loop.

The
comparison is even more extreme when you compare the U.S. Masters,
golf's most prized event, with the Tour. This year's Masters' champ,
South African Charl Schwartzel, earned $1,440,000 for his efforts, again
over four days.

"We look at sporting events as advertising properties," Todd Sampson of agency Leo Burnett, the other regular panellist on the Gruen Transfer,
said. "Golf is one of the most premium sporting properties available
for advertisers. The main reason for that is who watches it; it's mainly
white, 35-plus males with money."

That's another thing about
professional golf: while the U.S. Masters is the best-known and
recognised, there are plethora other events held in high esteem and
regard, both by the players and TV viewing audience; unlike cycling,
those events suffer little simply because the Masters is preeminent. The
far less taxing physical demands also means top players can target
multiple events on the calendar, rather than a select few, usually
guaranteeing strong fields with a bunch of marquee names.

And
despite Tiger's well-documented off-field gallivanting, sponsors still
want a piece of him and the tournaments he plays, even if he's earning
$25 million less than he used to in his heyday.

At the height of
his sex-crazed scandal, a Nike executive had the audacity to say that
there were 800 million reasons to stick by Woods, for that was the
annual revenue he generated for the sportswear company.

"A lot of
sponsors," said Sampson, "they dumped Tiger not because they wanted to
but because they had to. He's got more publicity now than he ever has."

Luxury
watch brand Tag Heuer actually lifted their advertising spend in China,
because research told them Woods was even more appealing than before.
He was recently dumped by the Swiss watchmaker, but soon found an ally
in Rolex to be one of their ambassadors.

Then you have someone
like Shane Warne, whose asinine antics only seem to augment his
popularity. Suggested Howcroft: "If we're really honest with ourselves,
you wouldn't mind being them, really…"

For a similar
indiscretion, or, in Tiger's case, spate of indiscretions, would
cyclists receive the same treatment from the public? Or is it a case of
philandering being tolerated, and doping not?

Right now, it
seems, corporate sponsors cannot run away too fast from professional
cycling. As much as the governing body tells us the sport is clean – and
may indeed be so, or at least much cleaner than it was 10 years ago –
it continues to project a stained image.

It is certainly not
helped by the ridiculously protracted case of Alberto Contador, or the
US federal investigation into alleged systematic doping at Lance
Armstrong's former US Postal Service team, which is a saga in itself.
But even without these cases, it may take another 10 years of fighting
the fight before sponsors start knocking at the door, rather than the
other way round.

Cycling may be one of the most undervalued
sporting properties, but until its image is clean and the polemics
between stakeholders abates, don't expect the sponsorship dilemma to be a
thing of the past anytime soon.

Twitter: @anthony_tan