Masters of Licensing

by Frank Bilotto

“A tradition unlike any other,” begins today. If you don’t get the reference, how about “A Rite of Spring”? No, not Igor Stravinsky’s orchestral ballet. If you’re still guessing, does the drive down Magnolia Lane mean anything to you? Still lost? If so, it may be difficult for you to relate to the comparisons I’ll make. But I’ll do my best to make my points.

Today, one of the most prestigious golf events in the world begins, and with it, the beginning of the golf season for most of America. I live in Florida. So, my golf season never ends. 

If you still have no idea what’s coming, I’m referring to the Masters, which was created in 1934 as a gathering of friends by the greatest amateur golfer of all time, Bobby Jones.  Played at Augusta National Golf Club, the home of the Masters is arguably the most recognizable golf course in the world, possibly because it is the only one of professional golf’s four majors to be played on the same course every year. So, each year much of America and the world tunes in to watch an event and a course we all know so well. I even know the breaks on all the greens, and I’ve never played the course. It feels like home to many who have never even been there.  

So, as I prepare to indulge in watching golf for the next four days, (It’s something I rarely do, as most TV golf is about as exciting as watching paint dry), I’ve been thinking about how similar my second favorite passion, licensing intellectual property, is to the Masters. For those of you publishers that are still tentative about licensing, this article is even more important for you to read. But, as usual, I’d like all publishers to consider the advantages that licensing presents. 

“I don’t care about the prize money. The Green Coat is enough for me.” 

Billy Casper

First and foremost, the most notable attribute of the Masters is its exclusivity. Even the players have to be invited to play. Tickets are not available to the public. Patrons (The Masters doesn’t call its guests spectators or fans) often pass on patron privileges to their heirs. Waiting lists to become a patron are often decades long. Membership at the club is by invitation only, and is not made public. The small number of members that we know of are all household names from industry, technology, finance and politics. I don’t think there are any entertainers who are members. And I think the only athlete member is Lynn Swann, NFL Hall of Famer, and the man who made more spectacular catches in big games than any receiver in history. I only know this, because I saw him there once wearing a green jacket exclusively reserved for members. But I digress. 

As a publisher, your resistance to licensing may be a fear of losing the exclusivity appeal of your intellectual property. But if strategically planned, with restrictions in the license as to access and distribution, the appearance of exclusivity of your IP may actually be enhanced by licensing. For example, in 1999 (I know, I’m old) I negotiated an exclusive agreement for Derwent’s patent abstracts. The abstracts were essential for lawyers doing patent research because they plainly described the patent in easy to understand language, which was often masked in the published patent, so that competitors could not gain insight or attempt to steal from the information provided in the patent. For clarification, in light of the theme of this article, there are a number of US patents titled “Dimpled Spheroid Orb” in attempts to keep the patents hidden. Derwent’s abstracts title those patents, “Golf Ball.”

At the time Dialog was the largest aggregator of patent information in the world and used by more attorneys than all other patent aggregators combined. My position on Derwent’s abstracts was that to be considered a prestigious patent information provider, it had to be made available to Dialog’s customers. In this case, an already prestigious/exclusive brand was made more prestigious by licensing. And Derwent’s abstracts on Dialog’s platform generated $20 million per year in revenue. 

Similar licensing relationships can be developed for any type of intellectual property, no matter how exclusive you think your brand is. The Masters is an exclusive golf event with limited access for participants and spectators, while strategic licensing provides access to unique intellectual property that is not readily available to everyone.

“The course is perfection and it asks (players) for perfection.”

Sir Nick Faldo

What is likely second most important to publishers is brand control. The Masters is the epitome of brand control. Merchandise displaying the world famous logo of the yellow silhouette of the United States with a red flag placed at Augusta, Georgia can only be purchased at the club. By the way, the members’ club logo is different from what the public can purchase. How’s that for brand control? I own a shirt with the members logo, but I’ve never worn it.  

Any food item sold at concessions is wrapped in green paper. In the event it is carelessly discarded, the green wrapper is virtually impossible to be seen by television cameras. The Masters strong brand image extends to the patrons through regulations on attire and behavior. For example, running on the grounds is not permitted. 

“They don’t cut the greens here at Augusta, they use bikini wax.”

Gary McCord

Even the aesthetics of the golf course, itself, is completely controlled to ensure the image of the brand is maintained.  Blue dye is injected into the water hazards to make them look more appealing on television. The sounds of birds are piped in around the course, just for effect. The most outrageous example of the Masters protecting its brand is that if there is a warm winter and the flowers that adorn the course begin to bloom early, they are covered with ice, to ensure that they’ll be in full bloom at the time of the tournament.  

As a publisher, I doubt that you go to similar extremes to protect your brand, but licensing your intellectual property should require strict brand control to maintain integrity and value. You want to be sure that your licensing agreements include terms such as your brand must appear at the top of every article hosted by the licensee. If you want to protect your brand, you must require licensees to adhere to brand guidelines to ensure consistency and protect your brand identity. 

“If the Masters offered no money at all, I would be here trying just as hard.”

Ben Hogan

Thirdly, publishers must consider the significant financial benefits to licensing. The Masters has become the textbook example of how to best serve the members of Augusta National from the financial benefits of the monetization of its assets. The Masters generates revenue through ticket sales, merchandising, sponsorships, and broadcasting rights. The revenue generated by the tournament more than pays for the maintenance and operations of the country club.  Thus, all of it benefits the members, as the club’s food, merchandise, lodging and annual dues are relatively inexpensive. In fact, they’re flat out cheap by any standards.  So, the members are able to enjoy the most exclusive and pristine 18 holes in the world, and all the amenities that go with it for significantly less than what it costs me to belong to an ordinary, run of the mill country club in Florida. 

Licensing intellectual property allows publishers to profit from their original work through third party distribution, royalties, and syndication. Most importantly, like the Masters, the nominal cost of licensing enables publishers to generate additional revenue at gross margins greater than 90% or utilize the funds generated from licensing to defray other costs of doing business.

‘Everyone knows what The Masters is, even if you’re a non-golfer. People know what Wimbledon is. They know what the Super Bowl is. There are certain events that people just know about.’

Tiger Woods

As a publisher, you most likely want your intellectual property to have global reach.  The Masters invites players from 20 countries and attracts audiences from around the world. The tournament is broadcast internationally, reaching millions of viewers across the globe. The name “Masters” has become so synonymous with championship golf that more than a few countries have even created their own Masters tournament. 

Most publishers don’t have the necessary resources required to penetrate global markets effectively. Licensed intellectual property can be distributed globally through various platforms and channels, expanding  your reach to diverse audiences at a fraction of the cost of going it alone.

Both the Masters and intellectual property licensors uphold high standards of quality to maintain their reputation and value. The Masters ensures top-notch facilities, course conditions and player performances to deliver a premium golf experience, while licensor publishers focus on producing high-quality content that meets industry standards and audience expectations.

The Masters and IP licensors each engage fans/users and enthusiasts through various channels. The Masters interacts with fans through social media, merchandise sales, on-site experiences, and exclusive content, while publishers engage with their audience through online platforms, events, interactive experiences and of course, exclusive content.

The Masters and Publishers rely on legal protection to safeguard their assets and intellectual property rights. The Masters enforces strict rules and regulations to protect its brand, trademarks, and event copyrights, while publishers  use licensing agreements, copyrights, trademarks, and other legal mechanisms to protect their original work from unauthorized use or infringement.

OK, so, maybe comparing the Masters to publishers might be a bit of a stretch. But it did get me (and hopefully you) to think about the benefits of licensing from a unique perspective. While the Masters Tournament and licensing intellectual property serve different purposes and industries, they share common elements related to exclusivity, brand control, financial benefits, global reach, quality standards, and legal protection. These similarities underscore the strategic importance of maintaining integrity, value, and relevance no matter in what space you do business.

‘The Masters isn’t just another tournament. It is something really special. I get as much excitement driving down Magnolia Lane now as I did 40 years ago.’

Jack Nicklaus

I’m going to take the next four days and enjoy a tradition unlike any other. Don’t ask me to draft anything that you need by Monday or pick a winner of the tournament. Ever since Tiger no longer was the game’s dominant player, too many players can win in any given week for anyone to realistically think they can predict a winner. But keep an eye on Scottie Scheffler.

For those of you that have no desire to watch the entire tournament, I’d ask you to tune in at about 5 pm est. on Sunday. It is commonly known that the Masters doesn’t really start until the back nine on Sunday. I’ve always said there’s nothing more dramatic in sports than a late inning world series game or the finishing holes of the Masters when the outcome is still undecided. I think, unlike other sports, it’s because there is enough time between pitches or shots to have us thinking about all the options available to the players and their potential outcomes. While you’re watching, in between shots, you’ll have time to think about what options you have for your intellectual property.

Even if you have no interest in golf, take a few minutes to tune in this weekend. While your watching, think about what you can learn from the Masters, and how you can best position your intellectual property to maximize your goals as a publisher. 

My last piece of advice when it comes to licensing is don’t put yourself in a position to repeat Argentine golfer Roberto DeVincenso’s famous quote, when in 1968 he shot the lowest score in the tournament, but didn’t win, because he signed an incorrect scorecard. All he could say was, “What a stupid I am.”