IF YOU'RE the betting type, take the over on how many conference rooms are being booked by the marketing gurus in Fort Ponte Vedra these days to discuss automotive title sponsors. Domestics and imports are getting murdered, which means auto execs are evaluating their promotional budgets, including sports sponsorships. The finance guys in particular seem to hate golf. I always suspected it was because the marketing guys got to play in the pro-ams while the accounting folks had to sit in their cubes and pay the bills.
In any case, the Tour has lost five automotive title sponsorships since the last TV contract go-round in 2006, leaving it with six, and if things don't improve in the car industry by the end of 2009, there may be further attrition. Tom Wade, the Tour's executive vice president of marketing, is charged with maintaining a prospective title-sponsor pipeline full of golf-rabid CEOs flush with cash and eager to get in the game. But top-quality title sponsors don't grow on trees.
Companies that are sufficiently capitalized, have a national audience of customers who fit golf's demographics, maintain a multilevel distribution network and can afford to develop a broad array of television ads are few and far between. Throw in a minimum entitlement fee of $3 million or more depending on the purse, a requirement to buy $2.5 million to $4 million in commercials, then add the cost of sponsorship activation (pro-am spots, hotels, food and beverage for customers), and the list begins to shorten rapidly. All in all, you're looking at roughly eight million bucks a year, with a minimum duration of four years, for a total commitment of around $32 million. And that's just for run-of-the-mill tournaments; World Golf Championships and some thoroughbred events are higher yet.
All that outlay just so the C-level executives can get wide and hang out in the clubhouse with Tiger (above), Phil, Ernie, and now Boo and Anthony (right); then give the 72nd-hole interview extolling the virtues of the charity and swagger onto the green to present the trophy to the winner. Beautiful, baby. Or at least it was beautiful.
Given the state of the auto industry, let's hope everyone can hang on until the current mess passes, because right now the corporate landscape does not hold many big dogs looking for a bone.
Jim McGovern ran Buick's golf program from 1998 to 2005 and now consults for title sponsors of PGA Tour events.