Luke Donald and DJ Khaled are not obvious bedfellows; one the home counties-born epitome of golfing restraint who captains Europe at this week’s Ryder Cup in Rome, the other a Grammy-award winning hip-hop DJ and producer more accustomed to making hits for rappers such as Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Megan Thee Stallion and T-Pain.
Yet earlier this year Donald found himself at Khaled’s palatial pad in Miami swapping awkward chat about their shared love of the sport, smiling politely as the larger-than-life American bellowed out catchphrases like “let’s go golfing!” and “be great!”. It certainly makes a change from asking for dressing-room tips from Sir Alex Ferguson.
This clash of cultures was no happenstance but set up for social media as part of a partnership between Ryder Cup chiefs and the sports arm of Roc Nation, the entertainment agency set up by Jay-Z, to promote the competition to younger audiences. DJ Khaled, who has 48m followers across Instagram, TikTok and X, has been enlisted as an ambassador.
It is in keeping with the wider modernisation of the commercial strategy around the Ryder Cup since the last time it was held in Europe, five years ago. Up to then, the European Tour and PGA of America had been selling their sponsorships separately, but for the last match in Wisconsin they joined forces to sell global partnerships – and it has paid off in spades.
The Ryder Cup now has seven top-tier worldwide partners on four-year deals which encompass matches on both sides of the Atlantic, including BMW, Citi, Rolex and Capgemini, as well as dozens more official suppliers, supporters and licensees, among them Pepsi, UPS and Peroni. As a result, Europe’s share of sponsorship revenue is up 153 per cent on Paris 2018 — an important boost, given the competition keeps the European Tour profitable.
“The Ryder Cup has grown to be one of the biggest sporting events in the world, but for a long time it had failed to truly maximise the commercial potential this brings,” Guy Kinnings, executive director of the Ryder Cup, told City A.M.
“Brands were traditionally only signing up as sponsors of one team and for one match at a time. Since the last match in Europe in 2018, we have combined our two commercial operations. This has been game changing and we can now offer brands a partnership that activates across multiple Ryder Cup cycles with rights and benefits across both teams.”
But it is not just sponsorship that is booming. Income from media rights is up 13 per cent on the last match at Whistling Straits, where the US thrashed Europe by a record margin. And despite Marco Simone Golf and Country Club having a smaller capacity than Le Golf National in 2018, ticket revenue for this week in Italy is up 20 per cent.
European Tour chiefs put their smarter ticketing strategy down to a joint-venture with data-led sports marketing agency Two Circles, struck in 2021. General admission prices have not increased, but new, hospitality-lite offerings have capitalised on an untapped demand for more affordable premium spectator experiences.
With the ballot for tickets seven times oversubscribed, golf fans have also taken advantage of an expanded programme of entertainment throughout the week, including an All-Star Match featuring sports stars Novak Djokovic, Gareth Bale, Carlos Sainz and celebrities. It has helped to shift an additional 15,000 tickets for practice sessions.
Just under 50,000 spectators are set to attend the Ryder Cup every day, burnishing its claim to be among the biggest weekends in sport, alongside the Super Bowl and Champions League final. And Donald’s brush with DJ Khaled wasn’t in vain; the push for younger audiences has resulted in 49 per cent of ticketholders in Rome being aged 40 or under.
“With the 2025 event in New York, there is so much potential to further build a cultural event that not only has the best golf in the world but offers world class music and other entertainment,” added Kinnings. “We want the Ryder Cup to be an event that draws golf enthusiasts and event seekers in equal measure and can be a starting off point for creating new fans of the game.”