Sports sponsorship usually follows a playbook – Brand X pays to be associated with Team Y or Competition Z – but Ryan Howsam, founder of insurer Staysure, has ripped it up with golf’s Legends Tour.
Howsam, a keen golfer in his youth who played off a scratch handicap, got involved with the circuit formerly known as the European Senior Tour in 2017 when he struck a deal for Staysure to become its title sponsor.
But in 2020, disillusioned with what he felt was a failure to market a product that featured men’s major winners still playing to a very high standard, he instead decided to buy a majority stake and rebrand it as the Legends Tour.
“The tour wasn’t being promoted very well. They weren’t really putting the big players front and centre of the tour. I thought there was an opportunity to do that and push the brand up dramatically.”
Howsam, who began his career at 17 selling double glazing and has turned Staysure into a market leader for over-50s, is aiming to transform the fortunes of the Legends Tour with a series of innovations.
Central to his strategy is increasingly the opportunities for corporate clients to pay to play full tournaments alongside the professionals in a variety of different formats. He believes that stream can make up 30-40 per cent of the tour’s revenue.
“If you’re a golfer it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said. “Yes you can do it at the Dunhill or at the AT&T [at Pebble Beach], but there aren’t many places you can do it.”
He plans to expand the tour’s popular Alliance Series of elite pro-am events to six and actively target corporate clients. “It just works. We’ve got that buttoned,” said Howsam. “A couple of banks” have already signed up for a new team tournament.
The tour also has Celebrity Series events, which see two paying amateurs compete alongside a former pro and a well-known face from sport, business or media, and its most exclusive offering, the Legends Club, which has its own order of merit.
“It’s like anything in business: you have got to find out what the product is and how it works and then you’ve got to tweak it for the market,” said Howsam, who hopes to be profitable in 2023.
“When you put that together – and the various sponsors we’re looking at round the tour and tournament level – this will start to make money.”
Howsam is not short of ideas, especially in combining his expertise in travel, the senior market and of course golf. A new event on the schedule will be based around a cruise, with players alighting at a different location each day of the three-round tournament.
“I love golf. I love business. Tying them together is interesting,” he said. “But finding things that are disruptive in the market and doing things in a different way is really what I’m about.”
Howsam’s latest venture is the Golf Lottery, which launched earlier this summer and offers prizes including golfing holidays and playing experiences with stars for £1 a week.
“All the stuff we are offering [on the Legends Tour] is expensive. I wanted to open it up to people who haven’t got that type of money,” he said.
Some revenue goes to charity, some to the tour, while the Golf Lottery will sponsor the Legends Tour’s prize money. “I’m looking at ways to bring in income that other people haven’t thought of,” he added.
His next brainchild is Legends Tour resorts, a handful of branded locations around Europe that he says will offer golf and “lifestyle living”, some aimed at the same mature customers as Staysure.
One product Howsam is determined to deliver – by popular demand – is a senior version of the Ryder Cup. “Every time I speak to somebody the first thing they ask me is we haven’t done one,” he said.
An agreement of sorts was reached with US counterpart the Champions Tour, he says, but is yet to be rubber-stamped. “I’ll be like a dog with a bone on that one. At some point we’ll get it done, it’s just [a case of ], politically, how we’ll get it over the line.”
Golf’s current stand-off between the PGA Tour and Saudi-backed breakaway LIV Golf series, meanwhile, could be good news for the Legends Tour if the star names to have jumped ship remain banned from the US seniors circuit.
“The likes of Lee Westwood are not going to be able to play on the Champions Tour currently. Depending on how many LIV Golf events they play, they might come and support the Legends Tour,” he said.
“Obviously we’re not playing for the same amount of money but these are people who have supported the European Tour for many years and if they want to come and play on the Legends Tour I’m sure we would find them a spot.”