The National Football League produces America’s number-one sport. Fans can’t get enough. Fall and winter draws us on to the field, relishing every earth shaking hit, last minute touchdown and stifling defensive stand. Spring brings us the draft and free agency. And the summer is all about the battles of training camp. But there’s a monetary discrepancy amid all that popularity. Zero professional football players are among Forbes’ 2015 World’s Highest-Paid Athletes. So where is all that football money going?

Consider this: four of the top ten richest sports organizations, according to Forbes, are NFL franchises. The Cowboys, Patriots, Redskins and Giants stand among the elite, which also include: Manchester United, Real Madrid, the Yankees, the Dodgers, Barcelona and Arsenal. It stands to reason that football franchise owners are winning the owner-player revenue tug of war. So where do athletes go to earn top dollar? Hint: grab your clubs and find the nearest tee box.

Big-time golfers on the PGA Tour earn major paydays but maybe not in the way you’d expect. Remember Tiger Woods? He has earned just over half-a-million dollars so far in 2015, a paltry sum for a professional athlete. The lowest paid NFL player will earn nearly as much in 2015. Yet Tiger is ninth overall among all athletes on the total earnings list. Why? Because of $50 million in endorsement deals. He’s not the only golfer with a serious dossier of endorsements. Third on that list is someone that’s earned only $3 million on the greens, well-known lefty Phil Mickelson. Sixth is Rory McIlroy who, unlike Tiger and Phil, has also earned some real dough (over $16 million) this year on the tour. The PGA’s new golden boy, Jordan Spieth, as well as Justin Rose have each earned over $10 million this year in endorsements alone, placing them both within the top 25 in athletic endorsement deals. Something doesn’t add up. Sure, golf is popular but it doesn’t match pigskin ratings. The 2015 Masters final-round averaged 14 million viewers. Not too shabby. The Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl XLIX showdown? Over 114 million viewers. The ratings tip so heavily towards football that the money should follow suit. But the dollars that trickle down to the athletes work against logic.

Why are golfers so much more endorsable than professional football players? Golfers are real people, well dressed, clean-cut and visible for the cameras. Football players are helmets and logos, tattoos and testosterone, a blur on the field. It’s simpler for endorsers to attach products and services to the face of a man or woman that isn’t obscured by a helmet. Golfers walk alone, solo stars competing for jackets, glory and money while football players are brothers-in-arms, melding together with the teammates that flank them. In football you scream “Come on, Bears!”. In golf you cheer “Let’s go, Jordan!”. So banks, athletic trainers and hospitals most often endorse football teams not football players.

It’s time for a dose of slightly uncomfortable reality. Ready? Grossly generalized, avid golf fans are in a higher socio-economic class than football fans. Most golf fans also happen to be golfers, right? And it’s not a cheap sport to pick up—clubs, balls, bags, shoes, green fees, cart rentals, caddy rentals all add up. Sponsors pour more money into golf and golfer endorsements because of the expected dollar-for-dollar ROR (rate of return). Peyton Manning endorses Papa John’s while Tiger Woods backs Rolex. That’s just one of many examples. Luxury brands aren’t invisible from the National Football League but it’s simply not their target market.  

PGA of America has some high-end sponsors. Companies like Mercedes-Benz affiliate themselves to the golf association, and its cast of players, because the sport comes with class and majesty. Pristine greens, white sand bunkers and glass blue water hazards set an amazing stage. Tee boxes overlooking the ocean and greens set before thick forests make for stellar backdrops. And sharply dressed, finely chiseled athletes—try to forget about John Daly for a minute—hitting balls with precision and power complete the picture perfectly. These superstar golfers hawk wares and services for major brands like Nike, Rolex, Omega, Adidas, TaylorMade on television, in magazines and across the internet. Companies will keep writing checks to golfers, even ones that aren’t so famous, because the faces of golf move product better than even the most known football players. Golf’s where the money is at!

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