SBJ/20090202/SBJ In-Depth

Auto, banking woes shrink prospect pool

The fallout in the automotive industry and consolidation in the financial sector has resulted in a shallower prospect pool for golf properties, leaving executives to ponder potential fits with other sponsor categories.

Car companies have been a stalwart on the PGA Tour dating back 50 years to Buick becoming its first corporate sponsor. Since releasing a 1999 schedule with nine tournaments title sponsored by automakers, the finance and insurance industry gradually took over as the dominant sponsorship category as companies such as Buick and Nissan let deals expire.

Nearly one-third of all events in 2009 sanctioned by the PGA Tour are sponsored by banks, investment firms, credit card distributors or financial consultancies, and golf insiders do not expect that ratio to decline in the short term.

“If you’re trying to get the high-net-worth guy or the business decision-maker, golf still delivers that audience better than anybody,” said brand consultant Bill McGriff, who works with UBS on its sponsorship of The Players Championship.

Golf properties have not seen an influx of interest from one specific category, but sponsorship executives expect any trends to center around the older, affluent demographic.

Prospects in the health care industry are expected to expand given the aging population and medical needs of baby boomers. The PGA Tour recently signed a health and fitness deal with a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that it hopes will open more doors with the health care giant.

What should Tiger drive next?
The following are results of the Turnkey Sports Poll taken in January. The survey covered more than 1,100 senior-level sports industry executives spanning professional and college sports.
Which automotive company would be the best fit to replace Buick as Tiger Woods automotive sponsor?
Lexus 27.14%
BMW 22.11%
Mercedes-Benz 12.56%
Cadillac 12.56%
Jaguar 6.03%
Audi 5.03%
Acura 3.52%
Saab 0.50%
Other 4.02%
No response/Not sure 6.53%
Source: Turnkey Sports & Entertainment in conjunction with SportsBusiness Journal. Turnkey Intelligence specializes in research, measurement and lead generation for brands and properties. Visit www.turnkeyse.com.

There also have been upticks in interest, although no new deals, from electronics companies and men’s grooming products, and Subway has expressed an interest in the PGA Tour’s vacant quick-service restaurant category.

Andrew Witlieb, co-founder of player representation agency Goal Marketing, expects more interest among shipping companies, which are effectively shut out of PGA Tour deals because of the tour’s relationship with FedEx. UPS recently signed a deal with the European Tour.

The U.S. Golf Association is selling supplier deals in the travel categories. CMO Barry Hyde is drawing considerable interest from the search because of the room nights and airfares such a deal would bring to the partners.

Despite sponsorship challenges that faced golf in the 1990s with the downturn in the domestic auto industries, earlier this decade with the dot-com and energy sector bust, and now the realignment of the financial industry, tour executives do not envision capping the number of sponsors from any one industry.

“It’s hard to turn away a prospect just because they’re in an industry that you already have a lot of sponsors,” said Jon Podany, head of sales for the PGA Tour.

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