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Money

The lucrative money angle behind Michael Block’s invitation to play the Charles Schwab Challenge

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Both Block and the Charles Schwab Challenge are likely to cash in from the decision to extend a sponsor's exemption to Block.

Andrew Redington

Michael Block can’t put a price on the experience he had last week at the PGA Championship, but that doesn’t mean others aren’t going to try. The club-pro hero who finished tied for 15th (and won almost $300,000) at Oak Hill was immediately awarded a sponsor’s exemption into this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial, where the 47-year-old has been the toast of the driving range and social media. The sports agency WME also said it signed Block to its list of clients.

According to one veteran sports attorney who specializes in athlete marketing, Block could be worth a five-figure sleeve logo deal—potentially more than he would get from selling the famous 7-iron he used to make his ace last Sunday—from a specific brand just for the exposure he is getting this week after his introductory star turn. “If you’re Michael Block, you want to try to maximize the opportunity that exists right now," says Luke Fedlam, who leads Porter Wright’s sports-law practice in Columbus, Ohio. “The value of a short-term deal is based on television coverage, numbers of eyeballs on that coverage and overall exposure. If the fairy tale story continues, it leads to more opportunities because of the ancillary coverage on news like 'SportsCenter' and in social media.”

It's no accident that TaylorMade has featured Block prominently on its site this week, and that Michael Jordan reached out to Block personally to congratulate him for both his play and choice of kicks. Jana Smoley, a sports agent and former tournament director for the PGA Tour's Reno-Tahoe Open, says the juice Block is bringing to Colonial this week is an ideal way to spend a sponsor’s invite. 

“Just look at some of the social media that has surrounded this week,” Smoley says. “One influencer with more than three million followers posted he was headed to the course to watch Michael Block play. Social media isn’t the strength of most tournaments, so that was an instant boost. That’s the stuff that matters. The buzz is more important than the direct revenue a player brings in terms of ticket sales.”

Smoley distributed sponsor’s exemptions to the Reno-Tahoe event based on four main criteria: a player’s current “heat index” in terms of fan interest (like Block or a player like John Daly who remains massively popular even after losing his exemptions), an up-and-coming player who could win and bring national attention (Matthew Wolff won the 3M in 2019 as a rookie sponsor invite), a player with a relationship to the presenting sponsor or a player who has had a long-term positive relationship with the tournament.

No matter what Block shoots this week, he’ll be in the spotlight at least a few more times. The RBC Canadian Open has offered him another sponsor's exemption in two weeks, and Block is guaranteed a return trip to the PGA next year at Valhalla. At least he’ll have time to get home for a change of clothes by then.