SBJ/September 28 - October 4, 1998/No Topic Name

Senior women golfers look for $2M sponsor

The Medalist Group, the senior women's golfing tour, hopes to get $2 million from a title sponsor next year.

The group is getting ready to select a sports marketing firm that will be charged with finding a title sponsor by year-end. The association wants its sponsor to pay $500,000 in prize money for each of four events in 1999.

The Medalist Group has struggled with name recognition since its inception more than 18 months ago. There are 25 founding members, including professional golfers Nancy Lopez, Jan Stephenson and Jane Blalock, the group's director, though the association expects to expand.

The Medalist Group has hosted two events since its founding: the Marshall Field's Tournament of LPGA Champions in Chicago in July, which awarded $260,000 in prize money, and the American Stores Challenge in Salt Lake City last year, which awarded $250,000. The American Stores event will occur again next month, with $275,000 in prize money, and Marshall Field's has agreed to sponsor its event again next year.

The group hopes to duplicate the success of its male counterpart, the Senior PGA Tour, which formed two decades ago and has millions of dollars in prize money.

The Medalist Group hired sports investment banking firm Game Plan this summer to search for a sports marketing firm. Game Plan issued a request for proposals in August and received seven responses. It plans to recommend a firm this week to the Medalist board of directors.

Game Plan conceded that the $2 million figure may seem high given Medalist's relatively low profile, but argues that the figure is reflective of the current state of sponsorship values.

"It is reasonable given the current marketplace," said Robert Caporale, a Game Plan principal.

The title sponsor will be expected to increase its payments per event to $600,000 in 2000 and to $750,000 in 2001. The tour would be willing to examine a title sponsorship for each tournament, Caporale said.

But sponsorship experts argue that the money the Medalist Group is seeking may be too high. The LPGA Tour, the women's professional golf tour, has several events in which prize money is $500,000, so why should less skilled players receive the same, asked John von Stade, a vice president of Millsport.

Also, without a television package, a sponsor would not receive enough exposure, he said.

But two corporations have already made verbal agreements to be title sponsors at those levels, said Blalock, whose management company operates the tour.

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