SBJ/June 26 - July 2, 2000/Marketingsponsorship

Support for charities is solid marketing — and the right thing to do

This is a story about sports-industry charity contributions intersecting with the lives of real people.

The PGA Tour, Senior PGA Tour and Buy.com Tour recently surpassed a lifetime accumulated charity contribution of $500 million. Last year alone, the three tours poured more than $58 million into charity. The PGA Tour kicked in $44 million of its own last year, and accounts for $424 million of the three tours' $515 million total charity contributions.

The impressive numbers are proof that support for charities is marbled into the PGA Tour's culture. Unfortunately, those check presentations tend to take place long after the tournament is gone.

What tends to get lost is that the money matters.

Take, for example, the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn., each June, and its effect on Nancy and Bob Mills and their kids, Ali and Bobby. The Millses are big supporters of the 42-year-old PGA Tour event at the TPC at Southwind, which just finished its yearly run Sunday. Both are avid golfers. They live at Southwind and entertain friends during the tournament. Ali, 8, and Bobby, 9, also enjoy the excitement.

As the PGA Tour returned to Memphis in 1997, Ali, who was 5 then, said her stomach hurt. The pediatrician said little girls get stomachaches. A week later, Ali's legs hurt. The doctor told Bob and Nancy she had strained a hamstring.

Another week later, Ali's blood work, tested at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, confirmed she had neuroblastoma, one of the deadliest forms of pediatric cancer of the nervous system. Tests confirmed a tumor in Ali that spread from her neck to her abdomen, wrapping itself around her organs. It was also in her bone marrow.

St. Jude, one of the leading pediatric cancer hospitals in the world, stood to serve Ali, in her hometown, partly because of the sports industry's contributions.

Sports drives $4 million a year to St. Jude, which was founded by comedian Danny Thomas and opened in 1962. Since the golf tournament adopted the hospital in 1970, it has contributed more than $10.4 million, not including this year's contribution, which may be close to $1 million. About $9.1 million of that has been given since 1986, when hometown corporate citizen Federal Express Corp. took title sponsorship for the tournament.

In addition to the PGA Tour stop, the hospital also benefits from the AXA Liberty Bowl postseason college football game, the Kroger St. Jude tennis tournament (part of the ATP Tour) and more than 150 local golf, fishing, road-running and tennis events.

No child eligible for treatment is turned away from the hospital because of an inability to pay. The hospital treats illnesses of its patients and gives their families the tools to cope. St. Jude's leading medical and technical knowledge and its Nobel prize-winning staff of 1,800 are complemented by the hospital's culture of service and human concern.

Cause marketing is a good thing to do and is good for business, said Boston-based Cone Inc. Executive VP Mark Feldman.

"Cause association can be a very powerful business tool," he said. "It can forge, build and enhance consumer and B2B relationships. It also speaks to shareholders, analysts, potential business partners and many other constituencies, especially if it is integrated into a marketing program."

Corporate marketing departments wrote checks for $640 million to U.S. charities last year, not counting soft contributions such as value-in-kind, services and promotional support. But the industry could do more. An industry expert recently told me that corporate charity contributions are increasing, but they're falling behind as a percentage of soaring corporate profits and growth.

Many of us are lucky enough that a bad day is when the car won't start. But imagine sitting in a doctor's office being told your 5-year-old has cancer. Then imagine dealing with that without the benefit of a well-funded, world-beating children's research hospital in your back yard that turns no one away.

Ali's good news is that she has been in remission for two years this month, and the family, especially Ali herself, is upbeat about the process.

St. Jude and countless other facilities make important differences in people's lives. The sports industry generates a significant amount of their resources, but the gift level can never be too much. If your organization is benefiting from these boom times, share the wealth.

Mel Poole (mpoole@sprynet.com) is president of SponsorLogic, a consulting, management and events agency.

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