Jason Richardson anticipated 2020 was going to be an important year for Bad Birdie.
Launched in 2017 with $20,000 of his own money as a side hustle, the golf apparel brand known for its brightly colored polos featuring unique patterns and designs grew sales from $72,000 to $412,000 in 2018, and over $1 million the following year. Ahead of 2020, Richardson sought out loans in order to buy up more inventory to see if Bad Birdie could keep growing at the rate it had been.
Then in March the coronavirus pandemic hit. The world stopped. Sales dropped 90%. Retailers canceled orders left and right.
“I was sitting on a bigger inventory than we’ve ever had before,” Richardson says.
But two months later, golf’s popularity began to increase as a safe and socially distant outdoor activity when sports and other activities were postponed; even basketball hoops in New York City were removed from public courts to limit exposure and spread.
Golf equipment sales in the U.S. boomed, topping $1 billion for the first time ever during the third quarter of 2020 as approximately 50 million more rounds were played that year amid the pandemic than were played in 2019 when 441 million rounds were played nationally.
Not only was Bad Birdie buoyed by golf’s massive growth in interest and it’s expansion as a more diverse and inclusive game and sport, Richardson’s appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank aired April 3 resulting in a 1-2 punch.
The brand has increased its top line revenue 10x in the last two years by growing its e-commerce business while expanding into more than 1,000 retail stores nationwide including Nordstrom, PGA Tour Superstore and premium pro shops. Bad Birdie also opened its first retail store in November in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“(The pandemic) really helped propel our business and brought way more awareness to the game because everyone was stuck inside being like, ‘What am I going to do?’ Richardson says.
A More Inclusive Game
Golf’s resurgence during the pandemic can be attributed to a number of factors. Besides being a socially distant activity, increased interest in golf-entertainment venues like Topgolf and Drive Shack coupled with the industry embracing sports betting have resulted in a younger, more diverse audience.
The PGA Tour announced DraftKings, BetMGM, PointsBet and FanDuel each as an Official Betting Operator from July 28 through August 31, 2020. Golf is DraftKings’ fourth most popular sport for daily fantasy while its golf sportsbook handle has grown over 10 times year over year.
And while 18-34 year olds represented 25% of on-course golfers (24.1 million) in 2019, that age group comprised 40% of off-course golfers playing at golf-entertainment venues, driving ranges and indoor golf simulators.
A game rooted in routine, rigid tradition and preconceived notions that journalist and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell referred to as “crack cocaine for old white guys” is evolving with the times.
“I love the game because of the fun and community,” Richardson says. “So much of golf in the industry was focused on upholding the tradition and stuffiness of what it’s been and no one was really jumping in to be like, ‘Hey, wait a second.’
“We didn’t invent the idea that golf is the most fun thing you can do with your buddies, we’re just actually embracing it, and thought we could go out and build a brand around it to hopefully empower people to feel more free, inclusive and go out and be themselves.”
Bad Birdie leverages its products as a means to further its brand and message: that golf should be fun and enjoyed by all.
The company released a limited-edition collection with Michelob Ultra in October and is partnering with Waste Management for a limited collection at the Phoenix Open (February 10-13). Richardson says the event, known for its raucous 16th hole, is “like a sea of Bad Birdies running around.”
In order to engage with its growing fan base, Bad Birdie dedicates time and money to entertain people on social media through fun stories around the game and brand. Bad Birdie TV is their Instagram series focused on golf comedy, and Breakfast Balls is a weekly blog/newsletter highlighting golf current events and culture. The Arizona-based company also furthered its relationship with its community by hosting the inaugural Condor Cup, an investment into local recreational golf leagues.
“We’re not necessarily selling a product, we’re selling a feeling and a community,” says Preston McFarland, Bad Birdie director of brand marketing. “It’s awesome that someone might go to our website and find a polo that jumps out at them and represents them and their personality well, but chances are they saw something that made them say, ‘That’s awesome. I want to be part of the Bad Birdie community.’
“So let’s open up the floodgates to people who have never played the game before, and to do that you have to make the space approachable and welcoming. That’s what we’re trying to do from a brand storytelling perspective—touch people who might not have experienced the game. The transition from a golf polo brand to a golf lifestyle brand is very substantial, especially for us this year.”
Separating from the flock
Following Richardson’s appearance on Shark Tank, Bad Birdie compiled a list of approximately 40 knockoff brands looking to capitalize on the show and golf’s growing interest.
In an industry dominated by legacy apparel brands including Nike, adidas and Under Armour, more and more niche golf brands are popping up including Malbon, Bogey Boys, Waggle Golf and Birds of Condor.
“Coming out with a golf brand nowadays is like coming out with a skate brand in the ’90s,” Richardson says. “Everyone’s starting their own golf brand. People just love golf and now it’s kind of the cool thing people are getting into.”
The goal for Bad Birdie now is to continue to build off the relationship with its loyal consumers while enticing new ones to enjoy the game and the company they play with while not taking themselves so seriously. Richardson says it’s about asking “What does our Bad Birdie guy represent?” and what are they wearing whether they’re on the course, at the gym, lounging at home or out with friends.
Bad Birdie released their Muni Kits—a collection of sweatshirts and sweatpants—for more casual rounds or off-course usage as they look to continue to expand into golf lifestyle.
“The goal is a couple of years from now you can wear Bad Birdie head to toe whether you’re on the golf course or not,” Richardson says. “Literally any situation we got you covered, and it says something about who you are.”