Lorde v Lydia: who will make more?

Two 16-year-olds hit the big time, simultaneously. What's their earnings potential?

Form is temporary, class is permanent, the saying goes.

Singer Lorde and golfer Lydia Ko are in top form, you’d say, and, given their achievements there are early signs of class.

Already the magic word “million” is being associated with both 16-year-olds.

Lorde is expected to be a millionaire by Christmas after topping the Billboard charts with her song Royals.

Ko, who only turned pro this week but is already ranked fourth in the world, has been described as an overnight millionaire.

What is their respective earnings potential?

I think we're in good company, now
Let’s compare apples with apples.

Before Lorde – whose real name is Ella Yelich-O’Connor – the next youngest person to top the Billboard charts was another one-named artist, Tiffany, with her 1987 remake I Think We’re Alone Now.

Tiffany, last name Darwish, has released eight albums, appeared in a handful of films and television shows and appeared nude in Playboy magazine. 

One Website estimates her net worth at $US4 million – although it’s hard to trust Celebrity Networth since it says Tim Finn comes from a country called “Te Awamutu”.

The youngest-ever solo Billboard chart-topper is Stevie Wonder (at the age of 13, with Fingertips – Pt 2) who is estimated to be worth more than $US100 million.

Clearly, Lorde is in fine company. And if you listen to Joel Little, who co-wrote Royals, she is yet to write her best song.

University of Otago department of music head Graeme Downes told NBR ONLINE it’s appropriate to compare Lorde to another successful Kiwi export, OMC.

OMC topped the American charts with How Bizarre in 1996. In 2007, singer Pauly Fuemana said he earned $5 million of the $11 million paid in royalties.

Dr Downes describes Royals as a “great piece of work”. The trick is to sustain such success, he says. If she does, he thinks she could be one of New Zealand’s greatest musical successes.

“The financial benefits of the arts is understated,” he says.

Some Wie lessons
In terms of golfers, the world number one female golfer, Inbee Park, has earned $US7.6 million in prize money since she turned pro in 2007, according to the LPGA Website  – with nine career victories, including six this year.

After Park won three straight majors, there was a debate at golf.com over the fact the South Korean was dominating her sport but failed to capture public attention.

Another view, at Forbes.com, was if she keeps winning the endorsements will come.

The latter argument appears to have more resonance, given Park has since signed a deal with Ferrari.

Ko’s most salutary lesson could come from one-time publicity queen Michelle Wie.

When she turned pro in 2005, she was getting exemptions to play in men’s tournaments and had finished in the top five in five of six women’s majors. Her endorsements, from the likes of Nike and Sony, were said to be worth $US19.5 million in 2007.

Earlier this year, however, Wie made a list of the top 10 athletes to get more attention than they deserve.

Her prize money this year, from 23 events, is a comparatively paltry $US309,188. At the ripe old age of 24, people are suggesting Wie, ranked 64 in the world, is washed up.

Marketing potential
AUT associate professor of sport and recreation Geoff Dickson told NBR ONLINE Ko has a wholesome and describes her as incredibly humble and grounded.

A prodigious talent, he says she has the potential to be regarded as the greatest ever female golfer.

Her marketing potential will grow as she matures, Dr Dickson says, but her “brand” could crack the global market, which would be more lucrative than anything New Zealand companies can offer.

“She’s probably too young for some sponsors at the moment.

Interestingly, he worries Ko's Korean heritage will be an issue.

"It will be interesting to see if the New Zealand corporate sector wants to be part of New Zealand's first Asian-Kiwi sporting superstar.

“I think the NZ public might be more ready than the corporate sector.”

Place your bets
Comparing apples with apples is one thing. But comparing arts and sports?

Sportsmen and women are compensated well because they have relatively short careers with high public profiles.

Beyond their playing days, it seems there are few options.

Note, in golfing circles, how Frank Nobilo, Craig Perks and Phil Tataurangi are all commentating on the US PGA Tour, while Greg Turner, who had more success in Europe, is a course designer.

The arts can be as fickle an industry as the worst fair-weather fan, but New Zealand’s music industry, championed by the likes of the Finn brothers, Dave Dobbyn and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, shows longevity is not something reserved for the chosen few.

Which way am I leaning? To give a business analogy, I see Lydia as a Z Energy-type investment: she has hit the market with a proven track record and is likely to be a consistent performer.

Lorde, meanwhile, is more like Christchurch tech company SLI Systems – she has already turned a profit and has gained traction in the world’s most important market, but is a longer bet considering the fiercely competitive industry.

It comes down to what type of investor you are. Do you invest in Auckland International Airport or Pacific Edge?

I like slow and steady and I play golf, so my money’s on Ko.

Her class is already evident, in my books, and despite her shorter potential "shelf life", she seems a surer bet.

dwilliams@nbr.co.nz

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