Golf

Pat Riley Makes Money If Brooks Koepka Three-Peats at the PGA Championship

Other than the golfer’s girlfriend or agent, no one is rooting harder for Brooks Koepka at the 2020 PGA Championship than Pat Riley. The former Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat coach holds the trademark on variations of “three-peat,” setting him up for licensing fees if Koepka wins the tournament for the third straight year.

Pat Riley showed a sharp business mind

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A story from 1988 will resonate with anyone who has ever reacted to another person’s idea by saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The Los Angeles Lakers were coming off back-to-back NBA championships, and then-coach Pat Riley heard fifth-year guard Byron Scott speculating about the team’s potential to “three-peat.”

Scott’s play on words incorporated the number three and the possibility of a repeat championship. Recognizing that the phrase had a nice ring to it and rolled right off the tongue, Riley set the legal wheels in motion in November 1988 to potentially cash in if the Lakers won their third straight NBA crown.

Riles & Co., the company formed by the coach, originally submitted a trademark application for the use of the phrase on shirts, jackets, and hats – all hot merchandising items in the sports world. The good news for Riley was that the trademark application was approved relatively quickly. The bad news was that the Detroit Pistons swept the Lakers in the 1989 NBA finals.

Now, PGA Tour star Brooks Koepka is in the thick of the hunt for a three-peat.

The Chicago Bulls scored a pair of three-peats

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Teams in a variety of sports and at different college and professional levels have captured three straight championships since Pat Riley acquired the trademark for three-peat.

Riley was long gone from the team by the time the Los Angeles Lakers completed their three-pear under coach Phil Jackson in 2002. Before that, however, Jackson coached Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to three-peats in 1993 and again in 1998. By that time, Riley had expanded the trademark to cover usage on numerous other products like coffee mugs and linens. CelebrityNetWorth.com estimated that he made $300,000 in royalties the first time the Bulls three-peated and twice that sum the next time.

A Brooks Koepka three-peat likely wouldn’t mean too much of a windfall for Riley since there isn’t as much merchandising around individuals as there is for teams. (Tiger Woods and NASCAR drivers are notable exceptions.) Still, anything that Kopeka’s sponsors would want to trot out using the three-peat theme would have to go through Riley’s company first.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Riley’s royalty rate is in the range of 5% to 10%.

Brooks Koepka has some work to do

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In the time since Pat Riley acquired the three-peat trademark, only the 1998-2000 New York Yankees have captured three straight championships in one of the four major North American team sports. The WNBA’s Houston Comets won four titles in a row beginning in 1997.

In the college ranks, the most notable three-peats came from women’s basketball teams at Tennessee and UConn (twice). Individually, three-peats litter the landscape of tennis’ grand slam events.

Brooks Koepka is attempting to become the first golfer to win three straight PGA Championship crowns since Walter Hagen captured four in a row beginning in 1924. In order to do so, he will have to rally from a fourth-place tie. He enters the final 18 holes at Harding Park in San Francisco two strokes behind leader Dustin Johnson.