Golfing prodigy Danny Lee looks set to become New Zealand's richest teenager - despite abdicating the A$460,000 prize on winning the Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth last week.

The Rotorua 18-year-old has opted not to turn professional to retain his automatic entry into the US Masters in April - earned with his breakthrough US Amateur title last year.

Now Lee's making crucial decisions that will determine his worth on and off the fairway in the future, says former Black Caps captain turned sports marketer Stephen Fleming.

"There are going to be companies who want a piece of Lee because he's going to be hot property over the next 10 to 20 years."

Lee already knows just how hot a property he is: "After I won the US Amateur, all the sponsors are telling me big money - big, big money, maybe just over $100 million," he told home town newspaper The Daily Post.

By the end of last year, Lee was publicly regretting his decision not to turn pro, as a disastrous showing for New Zealand in the Eisenhower Trophy and the global economic downturn slashed his potential worth in the eyes of sponsors.

"Sometimes I think I just made a stupid decision - I should have just turned pro and played in the PGA events. Even if I had played bad it would've been worth it," he told the Post.

His spectacular win in Perth - where Lee stunned top players, including Anthony Kim, Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie - has changed all that and graphically illustrated that timing and decision-making off the field are as important as winning on the field in the business of sport.

The world's leading amateur now has the international sporting media at his feet. Lee's rejection of the early lure of huge money may well be the making of him.

Unencumbered by the pressure of professionalism, he cleaned up in Perth, beamed boyishly for the cameras, and, perhaps unwittingly, minted his value as a brand.

Says Andy Martin of Massey University's management department: "He's going to be a very marketable commodity for the top sponsors like Nike and Adidas. The level he will go to will be a quantum leap from where he is now."

International sports management companies are poised to court Lee. His coach at Wairakei, Steve Jessup, says "there are obviously things happening in the background" even though he can't sign any deal until the culmination of his amateur career at the Masters.

David Rollo of IMG World confirms his company is "certainly extremely interested - but it would be presumptuous for us to make any assumption". Lee now faces not only playing golf at the highest level, but balancing the impact of increased demands from sponsors and the media on his life, Martin says.

Sports stars on the rise, such as Lee, must "plot and plan" their way forward, says Fleming, identifying who they want to be associated with and what they stand for.

To Lee's advantage is the fact he is boyishly good-looking, an amateur underdog and, in the cold, hard world of mass television audience appeal, he is Asian. Lee arrived in New Zealand aged 12 from South Korea.

Now it is up to Lee and his advisers - to date, his family - to ensure he lives up to his potential as a professional player and catapults beyond being an amateur one-man brand.

Many top amateurs do not fulfil this promise, says Martin. He instances Anna Kournikova, who became more a media than a sports star, never winning a tournament.

Fleming says Lee must define himself as a player and as a brand and get guidance to maximise his earning potential. Sports stars need "a keen brain to appeal to companies who may seek endorsements", says Fleming, himself a shrewd commercial negotiator.

Sports managers agree that Lee's best next move is to concentrate like never before on his game and ensure his family surrounds him with the best advice possible for sponsorships and endorsements.

For, while the big money lies with the Nikes and Adidases of this world, the cash on the table for golfing success is not to be sneezed at.

The United States PGA Tour, the largest of the international tours, playing across 22 states, plus Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, has 47 official events for cumulative prize money of US$280 million.

Last year, 104 players on the PGA Tour earned over US$1 million each in official prize money alone.

The European Tour has recently undergone a re-branding programme that will see their season called the Race to Dubai.

The top 60 earners will qualify to play in the end-of-season finale called the Dubai World Championship, offering a US$10 million prize fund and a US$10 million bonus pool for the leading finishers over the entire season.

Sports agent Roger Mortimer says Lee will make less than one per cent of his earnings from New Zealand.

One-time professional footballer Craig Innes of World In Motion sports management says as well as being top of their game, the big earners need "charisma to appeal to the masses".

Dan Carter appeals to a broad audience - not only for his rugby, says Innes, but "he's also a reasonably good-looking bloke.

"There are a number of factors that come into making you marketable".

Rollo agrees a sports star's earning potential will ultimately be determined by a host of factors. Golfers such as Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman and Tiger Woods, or Michael Jordan in basketball have created brands that have transcended their sports.

Everything a professional athlete does will play a part in determining his or her brand.

In the New Zealand sporting scene, rugby players have become well paid as the All Blacks brand has grown, but the biggest movers have been cricketers since the advent of the Indian Premier League.

Overnight, Kiwi cricketer earnings soared from $200,000-$300,000 to up to $1.5 million.

From a national economic standpoint, while the local pay-per-view market is small, visits from the likes of the Indian cricket team expose New Zealand's tourism potential to an international television audience.


A sports player's brand is developed, perceived and valued across five measures, says David Rollo of IMG World:

Performance - winning performances make a player more marketable.

Partnerships - the companies/brands with whom a player has relationships and how he or she is promoted.

Public Relations - how a player interacts with and is portrayed by the media.

Presentation - how a player looks and acts on and off the course.

Promotion (self) - what a player communicates and "sells" about him or herself.

The players who deliver in each of these areas skew up their earning potential significantly as the value of their name and image can make them attractive marketing tools for a host of companies looking to promote their brands.

A sportsman's lot is indeed a profitable one

Steve Williams, Tiger Woods' caddy, could be New Zealand's top earning sportsman. Caddies generally get 10 per cent of earnings if a player makes the cut and 15 per cent of the winnings if the player wins the tournament or even a playoff. (Source:

Ten top earners are:

Scott Dixon (motorsport): Dixon has won US$13.4 million in the past six years on the Indycar circuit (source: and that's not taking into account his contract with his team, or endorsement earnings likely to be in seven figures.

Sean Marks (basketball): US$1 million.

Ryan Nelsen and Chris Killen (football): The average salary for premiership players is 20,000 to 25,000 a week. Nelsen is likely to be on 30,000 to 50,000 a week. Killen is estimated to be on 5000 to 10,000 a week.

Mark Brown (golf): Brown earned US$778,037 on the Asian Golf Tour last year (source:

Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth (yachting): Veteran commentator Peter Montgomery believes seven-figure-earner Coutts is the highest earner in Kiwi sport, making more than $10 million.

Top helmsmen command 60,000 to 70,000 a month and the second-tier 50,000. Montgomery estimates key Team New Zealand crew receive 35,000 to 45,000 a month and the others 20,000 to 35,000.

He adds that when the America's Cup comes "out of limbo", principal crew will be among the highest-earning sportspeople too, with Grant Dalton likely already in the top 10.

Sonny Bill Williams (rugby union, formerly league): Williams was widely reported to have signed to Toulon in France for $1.5 million.

Brendon McCullum (cricket): McCullum is estimated to be earning between $1 million and $1.5 million yearly, including Indian Premier League pro-rata payments.

New Zealand players are ranked from one to 20. Number one gets a retainer of $174,000, number two gets $168,000 and payments continue to decrease in $6000 increments until player number 17, who gets $72,000. Captain, Dan Vettori, gets a $40,000-$50,000 fee.

Players get $7325 each test, $3175 each one-day game and $2075 each Twenty20 match. On average, they play 10 tests, 25-30 one-day games and around 10 Twenty20 matches.

Players such as Vettori, McCullum and Ross Taylor will play in virtually all of them. So the top four or five players get between $300,000 and $400,000 from New Zealand Cricket, the next five or six between $180,000 and $300,000.

Indian Premier League deals give six or seven key players between another $100,000 and $750,000 a year. Shane Bond is believed to be getting close to US$800,000 a year for his three-year ICL deal.

Dan Carter (rugby, taking into account endorsements etc): Estimated to be receiving between $700,000 and $900,000 a year, Carter and Richie McCaw are paid substantially more than other All Blacks. Senior players would be on between $400,000 and $600,000.

The average salary is $220,000.

Highly paid Kiwi coaches: Include Robbie Deans (Wallabies rugby), Warren Gatland (Wales rugby) and Tana Umaga (Toulon rugby).