August 22 - 28, 2011 Vol. 14 — No. 17

Top Stories

  • Clothes make the brand

    Tinker Hatfield, Nike’s renowned shoe and uniform designer, used to visit sports camps all over the country and talk to young athletes to get inspiration for his next project.

    He also was a graduate from the University of Oregon, one of Nike’s primary clients, and he often would ask the kids what they knew about his alma mater.

    “They’d say, ‘Is that close to California?’” Hatfield said. “Now you can go from the sticks of Utah to the swamps of Louisiana and people know how to form the ‘O’ with their hands.

    “That’s marketing. That’s a successful program.”

    Oregon, with a lot of help from Nike and its generous chairman and alum, Phil Knight, created a football brand from nothing, becoming known for having more than 300 uniform combinations from all of its green, yellow, black, gray and white color schemes.

    The football team without an identity is now famous for building its own.

    The Ducks’ appearance in the BCS championship game last season was a coronation for Nike’s 15-year project to build Oregon football into a national power largely on the strength of marketing and branding. The Ducks created a cool factor for themselves that wasn’t there before. And cool means a lot to 17-year-old recruits.

    “We had not had much success, so why not be bold and try something new,” said Rob Mullens, Oregon’s athletic director since 2010. “We used to be ridiculed for being out there, but now you look across college football and it’s the trend.”

    N.C. STATE UNIVERSITY
    At N.C. State, Adidas is rolling out a fresh uniform update that sticks with tradition.
    GETTY IMAGES
    The South Carolina Gamecocks will sport new looks, compliments of Under Armour.
    Oregon’s ascent into a college football power has created an “industry-wide acknowledgement of the importance of brand development,” said Brad Bishop, co-founder of Dallas-based Torch Creative, which works with schools on their branding strategy and logos. “You didn’t hear athletic directors five, six years ago talking about their brand like you do now. There’s definitely much more of an evolving concern.”

    The brand focus is reflected in the number of uniform and logo overhauls executed by Nike, Under Armour, Adidas and Russell going into this college football season.

    Arizona State, Washington State, Oklahoma State, Wyoming and others in the Nike stable have opted for the “Oregon” approach with multiple helmets, jerseys and pants, all of which make their look more unpredictable.

    Adidas brought new looks to North Carolina State and Under Armour did extreme makeovers for South Carolina and Maryland, among others.

    That kind of revolutionary change does not fit every program, though. For every Maryland and Oklahoma State, there is the traditional look of a Penn State or Auburn, and that’s the balancing act today’s athletic directors must wrestle with when considering the brand image of their programs.

    Stirring up the nest

    It was 1996, on the heels of the Ducks’ blowout loss in a bowl game, that Knight brought his design team together and
    asked them a simple question: “How can we help the University of Oregon attract better students and better student athletes?”

    “He didn’t say ‘rebrand,’ he just asked the question,” said Hatfield, who teamed with another Nike creative artist, Michael Doherty, to plot a new course for the Ducks’ design away from the standard green and yellow with the interlocking UO on the helmet.

    Some of the initial concepts wound up on the cutting room floor. Green on one side of the jersey and yellow on the other didn’t make it.

    But there was a clear drive to “turn up the dial on being unexpected and edgy,” Hatfield said. “We wanted to be out there, to be purposely controversial. That’s a part of what we do that’s not very well understood.

    “A lot of the sports writers at first hated it and that’s actually what we wanted. If you’re purposely trying to stir up the nest and increase visibility, you want them saying something. And what’s a more visible way to turn up the heat and create a personality than through the football uniforms? So many millions see them on TV that uniforms become your biggest branding tool.”

    What the Ducks struggled to build on the field — an identity — they manufactured through design. Through their willingness to wear just about any color combination, they built one of the most unmistakable brands in college sports — one built on innovation and fun.

    “That’s become Oregon’s brand — let’s see how crazy we can get — and it’s working for them,” said Torch Creative’s Bishop.

    NIKE
    Wyoming followed the lead of Oregon in opting for an extensive variety of options from Nike.
    When Oregon squared off against Auburn in last season’s BCS championship game, it was the pioneering and adventurous folks from out West against the conservative, agrarian Southerners. Nowhere were the characteristics of the Ducks and Tigers more apparent than in their uniforms.

    Oregon came out in one of its 300-some color combinations. Never had so much been written and said pregame about what a team would wear in the title game. (By the way, those highlighter green socks were technically called volt).
    Auburn, meanwhile, wore the same colors and helmet design that it’s worn as the home team for more than 50 years, the interlocking AU on the helmet accented with two blue stripes and a thicker orange stripe.
     
    The two teams represent both schools of thought in the way branding affects their look on the field these days.

    Schools take a fresh look

    Schools like Auburn, Alabama, Penn State and Southern Cal aren’t likely to change their look. They cling to words like tradition and history as core brand attributes and the uniforms are uniquely part of that.

    Walker Jones, Under Armour’s director of NCAA marketing, recalled the conversation with Auburn officials when they struck their first equipment and apparel deal.

    “Auburn has had their look for years and they’re very conscious of their tradition,” Jones said. “They take it very seriously. When we got the deal done, they said to be as innovative as you can be from a performance standpoint, but don’t try to change the way we look.”

    But what if you’re a school that doesn’t have that history of success on the field? What if there is no tradition, or if the tradition is one you’d like to forget? Then you do what Arizona State, Oklahoma State and Washington State all have done this season. You create one.

    “We can’t get to where we want to go until we know who we are,” said Washington State AD Bill Moos, who supported the redesigns at Oregon when he was AD there from 1995 to 2007. “When we looked at our uniforms here, we had different shades of crimson and our fonts were all over the place. So the charge was to have a uniform style that distinguishes us and appeals to the 17-year-old recruit.

    “You don’t need to change Penn State or Michigan or Oklahoma. They’re recognized for having the same look for the last hundred years. But if you don’t have that tradition, you’ve got to find other ways to attract recruits and attract media attention. This rebranding is certainly one way to do it.”

    At Nike, those schools and others like Michigan State have gone through a branding exercise with Nike’s Graphic Identity Group, or GIG, which is a team of designers and branding experts who examine everything from uniforms and logos to mascots, business cards and email signatures.

    The typical GIG project lasts 18 months and the group takes on about four projects a year.

    “It’s just a great process that causes schools to think more about themselves as brands,” said Kit Morris, Nike’s director of college sports marketing.

    Nike doesn’t charge its clients extra for a brand overhaul, even though the service would cost $100,000 to $200,000 at most design firms, Morris said.

    No sitting Ducks

    So, if your brand identity is being the trendsetter in college athletics, as Oregon’s is, and others are trying to follow in your path, how do the Ducks’ stay ahead of the game?

    Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your TV, Oregon is embarking on another brand overhaul. Nike’s brand and
    design team is about to go to work on another new look for the Ducks.

    You can’t be known as the pacesetter if you’re not setting the pace and the Ducks, along with Nike, have decided it’s time for a change. Or more change.

    Did you expect anything less? Those jerseys with green on the front and yellow on the back might be making a comeback from the cutting room floor.

    “The question every school has to ask is if they’re effectively reaching their fan base,” said Jamie Skiles, principal of Phoenix Design Works, a New Jersey company that works with colleges on logos and brand campaigns. “It gives licensing a boost, it sells merchandise, and it’s a way to connect with your constituents. Oregon is always reinventing itself.”

    How do the creative forces at Nike find a way to make the Ducks even edgier than before? That’s the question they’re asking themselves.

    Right now, they’re not saying. Oregon’s brand makeover will be executed over the next year to 18 months and probably won’t be unveiled until the 2013 season.

    “Hey, it’s who we are,” Mullens said.

  • Athletic budgets continue to climb

    Everyone in college sports is calling for cost control and lower spending, but new data shows schools spending more than ever.

    A majority of schools have increased their budgets by double-digit percentages from fiscal years 2010 to 2012, according to information obtained by SportsBusiness Journal from schools in the six major conferences.

    Of the 52 schools that provided annual budgets, 30 have increased their spending by 10 percent or more in the last three years. Seventeen of them, or a third, have increased spending by 15 percent or more.

    In some cases, creative athletic directors have found new revenue streams that provide them more money to pump into facilities, salaries and other discretionary spends. In other cases, spending is on the rise because of mandatory costs, such as tuition increases that drive up scholarship costs and administrative fees that are paid back to campus for services like legal, police and utilities.

    Administrators explain the increases by saying that they’re reinvesting in their programs and that the new revenue coming from richer TV contracts is funding the additional spending.

    “When you look two to three years out, it looks like we’re falling off the edge of a cliff,” said Jamie Pollard, Iowa State’s AD. “It’s a scary thought. But the cliff keeps moving further and further away. ADs have found ways to raise new revenue, trim costs and figure it out. … A year and a half ago, we were making a lot of strategic decisions about the cost of travel, salaries, ways we could make some cuts. We’re not doing that as much this year. Our basketball team is making a trip overseas this year and that’s something we wouldn’t have done a year or two ago.”

    Across the country, schools are seeing increases in revenue from a variety of areas, but the two main sources are new TV contracts and premium seating for football.

    GETTY IMAGES
    The University of Louisville’s athletic budget has grown 31.3 percent in the past three years to $68.8 million thanks in part to a new downtown arena and premium seating in the football stadium.
    The University of Louisville’s budget has grown from $52.4 million to $68.8 million, an increase of 31.3 percent from the Cardinals’ new downtown basketball arena and premium seating in the football stadium, which has grown from a capacity of 42,000 to 55,000.

    Michigan, likewise, has used new premium seating revenue from football to help drive up its budget from $84.6 million to $109.8 million, a 29.8 percent rise.

    Texas, which annually has the nation’s largest budget, will see its numbers jump by $15 million this year mostly because of its new contract with ESPN to run the Longhorn Network.

    In a classic case of the rich getting richer, the Longhorns’ budget will leap to a record $153.5 million this year. What’s more remarkable is that Texas has just 17 sports to support, fewer than most schools its size.

    UT’s budget has grown from $129.9 million just two years ago, an 18.2 percent increase. Not only does Texas have the largest budget in the country, its budget has grown more percentage-wise since 2010 than any of its counterparts in the Big 12.

    These types of double-digit increases are not expected to stop any time soon.

    “I really question what kind of ROI filter they use on their expenditures,” said A.J. Maestas, president of Chicago-based Navigate Marketing. “Is that stadium expansion really necessary? Are they doing it just to keep up with their rival? But on the other hand, I don’t think the money is going to run out any time soon. I still see a decade’s worth of very aggressive growth rates, probably 10 percent or more with most schools, with more commercial expertise in tickets, donations, sponsorships, premium seating and TV revenue. The cost curve is not slowing down, but I think schools can continue to keep pace with revenue.”


    ACC
    School FY2010 FY2011 FY2012 Change (2010-12)
    Clemson $57.6 $58.4 $62.5 +8.5%
    Florida State $48.1 $55.0 $57.9 +20.4%
    Georgia Tech $52.5 $55.1 $58.9 +12.2%
    Maryland $52.7 $56.0 $62.1 +17.8%
    North Carolina $61.8 $65.4 $72.2 +16.8%
    N.C. State $45.7 $49.5 $56.6 +23.9%
    Virginia $58.5 $64.7 $67.7 +15.7%
    Virginia Tech $48.0 $50.3 $49.0 +2.1%
    * Budgets for Boston College, Duke, Miami and Wake Forest were not available.
     
    BIG TEN
    School FY2010 FY2011 FY2012 Change (2010-12)
    Illinois  $71.1 $71.4 $70.2 -1.0%
    Indiana  $55.4 $58.1 $61.5 +11.0%
    Iowa  $65.6 $70.1 $74.9 +14.2%
    Michigan  $84.6 $103.9 $109.8 +29.8%
    Michigan State  $74.0 $76.1 $78.8 +7.5%
    Minnesota  $74.1 $76.7 $78.6 +6.1%
    Nebraska  $74.3 $79.4 $79.1 +6.5%
    Ohio State  $118.1 $128.4 $126.5 +7.1%
    Penn State  $85.5 $89.2 $92.0 +7.6%
    Purdue  $57.3 $57.6 $68.7 +19.9%
    Wisconsin  $83.3 $83.1 $88.1 +5.8%
    * Budgets for Northwestern were not available.
     
    BIG 12
    School FY2010 FY2011 FY2012 Change (2010-12)
    Iowa State  $40.1 $42.3 $47.0 +17.3%
    Kansas  $61.1 $64.4 $67.2 +10.0%
    Kansas State  $44.2 $47.0 $51.5 +16.5%
    Missouri  $50.0 $53.2 $56.4 +12.8%
    Oklahoma  $80.5 $85.2 $90.5 +12.4%
    Oklahoma State  $49.6 $53.7 $57.8 +16.5%
    Texas  $129.9 $136.8 $153.5 +18.2%
    Texas A&M  $68.8 $69.0 $75.8 +10.2%
    Texas Tech  $56.2 $53.0 $54.0 -3.9%
    * Budgets for Baylor were not available.
    PAC-12
    School FY2010 FY2011 FY2012 Change (2010-12)
    Arizona  $45.0 $50.0 $55.0 +22.2%
    Arizona State  $47.3 $45.6 $48.6 +2.7%
    California  $69.4 $64.2 $71.2 +2.6%
    Colorado  $46.6 $47.4 $49.3 +5.8%
    Oregon  $77.9 $84.5 $87.8 +12.7%
    Oregon State  $49.8 $48.7 $56.6 +13.7%
    UCLA  $61.9 $64.1 $64.1 +3.6%
    Utah  $27.8 $29.7 $35.0 +25.9%
    Washington $63.2 $62.1 $67.1 +6.2%
    Washington State  $37.0 $38.5 $39.3 +6.2%
    * Budgets for Southern California and Stanford were not available.
     
    SEC
    School FY2010 FY2011 FY2012 Change (2010-12)
    Alabama   $96.2 $94.6 N/A  N/A
    Arkansas  $60.3 $63.3 $69.0 +14.4%
    Auburn  $81.0 $88.7 $95.7 +18.1%
    Florida  $98.6 $95.4 $97.7 -1.0%
    Georgia $84.8 $84.8 $90.0 +6.1%
    Kentucky  $72.7 $79.4 $83.6 +15.0%
    LSU  $81.5 $88.3 $90.6 +11.2%
    Mississippi  $42.0 $43.7 $47.6 +13.3%
    Mississippi State  $35.9 $37.4 $40.1 +11.7%
    South Carolina  $73.0 $77.0 $79.0 +8.2%
    Tennessee  $100.9 $100.0 $103.3 +2.4%
    * Budgets for Vanderbilt were not available.
     
    BIG EAST
    School FY2010 FY2011 FY2012 Change (2010-12)
    Connecticut  $58.4 $62.0 $64.0 +9.6%
    Louisville  $52.4 $64.4 $68.8 +31.3%
    Rutgers  $64.2 $62.0 N/A  N/A 
    South Florida  $32.7 $37.8 $40.4 +23.5%
    West Virginia  $56.0 $58.0 $58.0 +3.6%
    N/A=Not available
    Note: Projected number for Connecticut's budget, which has not yet received state approval.
    Big East non-football schools excluded.
    * Budgets for Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and TCU were not available.


    The Knight Commission, a watchdog group made up mostly of current and former college administrators, issued a report two years ago that called these budget increases unsustainable. “At many universities, spending on high-profile sports is growing at double or triple the pace of spending on academics,” the Knight Commission wrote.

    But the criticism hasn’t slowed spending on many campuses.

    Schools in the ACC have increased their spending the most, with an average jump of 14.6 percent among the eight public schools that supplied their budgets. The ACC’s new TV contract with ESPN, which doubled revenue to about $155 million a year, accounts for much of the increase.

    Schools in the Big 12 have been the next-most aggressive, increasing their budgets 12.6 percent, followed by the Big
    GETTY IMAGES
    The Longhorns overwhelm other schools when it comes to the size of their athletic budget.
    East at 11.2 percent. The Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 conferences each raised spending 8 percent to 10 percent.

    More increases will be on the way for Pac-12 schools once their new $250 million-a-year TV deal with ESPN and Fox takes effect in fiscal 2013.

    “A lot of change in spending is related to making reinvestments in facilities, based largely on money from new TV deals,” Pollard said. “We’re going forward with three new projects and we’re taking on debt for that, but we’re doing so knowing that revenue is going up.”

    While TV revenue will push budgets higher in the future, ADs also must contend with rising costs in what they call the hidden expenses, such as administrative fees that go back to campus for services such as police, accounting, legal, utilities and other mandatory charges.

    North Carolina State’s administrative costs jumped from $700,000 to $1.4 million this year.

    “At most places, you’re talking about at least $1 million in new mandatory expenses every year before you even look at travel, equipment and other costs,” Oregon AD Rob Mullens said.

    Diane Moose, associate AD at N.C. State, said she plans for at least a 6 percent increase in utilities each year.

    “People don’t think about a lot of those costs, but we’ve got to pay them,” Moose said. “You’ve got to insure buildings and you’ve got to provide health benefits, and those costs are going up.”

    Conference by conference

    % INCREASE FROM 2010-12   MEDIAN BUDGET
    ACC 14.60%   ACC $60.5M
    Big 12 12.60%   Big 12 $57.8M
    Big East 11.20%   Big East $62.0M
    Big Ten 10.10%   Big Ten $78.8M
    Pac-12 9.10%   Pac-12 $55.8M
    SEC 8.40%   SEC $90.3M

    * Projections were used for schools whose 2012 budget has not yet been approved.

    More mandatory expenses could fall on athletic departments if the conference commissioners follow through with their support of the “full cost of education” for each scholarship athlete. Currently, the grant-in-aid covers room, board, tuition and books, but a “full cost” measure would provide spending money for entertainment and occasional travel. Many academic scholarships already include some spending money.

    Some estimate that schools might have to come up with an additional $1 million to $1.5 million to cover the full cost of education for every scholarship athlete in revenue and nonrevenue sports. Most schools in the six major conferences are studying the exact effect of this on the budget, and they’re counting on conference TV revenue to shoulder the cost.

    The bigger-ticket items are salaries and scholarships, which account for close to half of the expenses in an athletic department. For schools such as Indiana and Oregon, that recruit most of their scholarship athletes from out of state, the scholarship fee jumps significantly to pay that out-of-state tuition.

    Indiana, for example, brings 70 percent to 75 percent of its athletes in from outside the state. At Oregon, it’s 80 percent.
    “When tuition jumps up, like it has a lot in recent years, we have to pay that full bill,” said Kevin Clark, Indiana’s associate AD. “We receive no waivers for out-of-state students.”

    Salaries are a huge chunk for most budgets, as much as 40 percent of the overall budget in some cases. At Tennessee, for example, the Volunteers still have another year to pay former football coach Phillip Fulmer his $1.5 million-a-year buyout. Much of Arkansas’ 9 percent budget hike this year was tied to an increase in salary for football coach Bobby Petrino and the hiring of basketball coach Mike Anderson.

    The new revenue from TV also has administrators thinking more about increasing their reserve funds. Athletic departments typically try to keep 10 percent of their annual budget locked away in the bank for a rainy day.

    “Budgets aren’t quite as tight as they were a couple of years ago, but we’re still watching everything closely,” N.C. State’s Moose said. “Most every school is dealing with state budgets that are getting worse and you’ve got to be prepared to do more with less. I’ve never seen a campus come in and take cash reserves from athletics — I’ve never felt that threat — but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.”


    GETTY IMAGES
    Ohio State’s $126.5 million athletic budget is the second-largest in college sports.

  • WNBA lands Boost Mobile as top sponsor

    Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

    In one of the more lucrative, and certainly the most comprehensive, sponsorships in its history, the WNBA has signed Boost Mobile as its sole “marquee” partner in a deal that will put the company’s logo on most WNBA team jerseys.

    The deal puts Boost Mobile jersey patches on 10 of the WNBA’s 12 teams, excluding the Phoenix Mercury and the San Antonio Silver Stars, franchises that already have wireless sponsorship deals in place. The Mercury has a team deal with Verizon; the Silver Stars have a sponsorship with AT&T.

    WNBA
    Teams will debut the new jerseys this week.
    The marquee level is a new top marketing tier for the league, and this deal includes much more than the jersey inventory. Boost Mobile becomes the title sponsor of the WNBA All-Star Game as well as the presenting sponsor for this year’s WNBA playoffs and Finals.

    League officials would not disclose financial terms, but sources confirmed it is a multiyear, eight-figure deal.

    Irvine, Calif.-based Boost Mobile, a prepaid wireless service provider owned by Sprint, also gets floor, pole pad and courtside signage in WNBA arenas, and it becomes the presenting sponsor of the WNBA Tip-off season-opening platform and a partner of the WNBA draft. A media buy on WNBA national television broadcasts begins this season. Boost Mobile also will be the presenting sponsor of the WNBA’s Top 15 Moments program, which includes a special to be aired on NBA TV on Friday and an online fan vote for the reminder of this season, its 15th.

    The deal’s size and its scope make it one of the most significant sponsorships in WNBA history. Among previous deals, Discover Financial Services had its corporate logo on WNBA courts during nationally televised broadcasts and issued a league affinity card. Discover ended its WNBA deal in 2009.

    “[The Boost Mobile deal] is transformative in its size, scope and breadth,” said Laurel Richie, president of the WNBA. “Our focus is making the partnership as robust as we possibly can, and while I know there will be a lot of attention to the jersey component, we will be doing a ton of other activation programs.”

    Five WNBA teams already have jersey sponsorship deals: Phoenix with LifeLock; New York with Foxwoods Casino; Los Angeles with Farmers Insurance; Washington with Inova Health System; and Seattle with Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

    The league’s deal with Boost Mobile means those teams, with the exception of Phoenix, will share jersey advertising space with their respective partners. Other WNBA teams will still be able to sign their own local marquee deals, which include jersey sponsorships. “The Boost Mobile deal is good for the league and good for the teams,” said Greg Bibb, chief operating officer of the Washington Mystics, the most recent team to sign a local jersey sponsorship. “It will raise awareness of the league, and of the Mystics, which ultimately raises awareness of our local jersey partner.”

    The Boost Mobile jersey patches will be located below the numbers on the front of the team jerseys. WNBA teams will debut the new jerseys this week.

    The Boost Mobile deal comes during Richie’s first season as WNBA president. She joined the WNBA in May, but league-level marquee talks already had begun under the league’s sponsorship department led by Mark Tatum, executive vice president of global marketing partnerships for the NBA.

    “The WNBA had been thinking about this for quite a while,” Richie said. “The process was well under way before I got here.”

    The addition of Boost Mobile gives the league 15 corporate marketing partners.

    For Boost Mobile, which along with Virgin Mobile is one of two prepaid brands owned by Sprint, the WNBA deal represents a way to get its brand broad exposure at a good value. Boost Mobile has sponsorship deals with the UFC and is a sponsor of the Travis Pastrana-Michael Waltrip NASCAR Nationwide Series car. The company last season also was New York Knicks sponsor.

    “When we looked at the all the assets of the deal, from the jersey visibility to the court visibility to the overall stature of the Boost Mobile brand, it is a great alignment,” said Steve Gaffney, Sprint vice president of corporate marketing. “This is a cost-effective way to align with a premier women’s sports brand.”

    Octagon is the agency of record for Boost Mobile.

  • Stevenson to run Pac-12 Enterprises

    The Pac-12 is bringing in sports industry veteran Gary Stevenson to oversee its TV, digital and sponsorship units, adding to the conference’s profile as a collegiate powerhouse on the rise. Stevenson will be president of Pac-12 Enterprises, the new wholly owned subsidiary that will launch a suite of cable TV channels in August 2012. The league’s digital and sponsorship sales units also will operate under the Pac-12 Enterprises umbrella.

  • In a tough spot, PGA Tour nails title sponsor challenges

    Heading into an unsettled 2010 season, when corporate spending was tight and Tiger Woods was absent, the PGA Tour faced the unenviable task of filling more than one-quarter of its title sponsorships. Prospects, it’s safe to say, were grim.

    Now, a little more than 18 months later, the tour has emerged from those turbulent conditions nearly sold out of its title sponsor inventory, putting it in prime shape to negotiate its next TV contracts with CBS and NBC.

    “For the tour to have the success they’ve had after the financial meltdown, it’s just remarkable,” said sports marketing veteran Gary Stevenson, who at one time worked for the PGA Tour, OnSport and Wasserman Media Group.

    GETTY IMAGES
    Cadillac is among the new sponsors that have come aboard since early in 2010.
    In the past 18 months, the tour has closed 17 title sponsorship deals, eight of which represented new money and nine that were renewals. Close to three-quarters of the tour’s tournaments have title sponsors locked in beyond 2013.

    “Think about it: There isn’t a traditional FedEx Cup event that’s for sale right now,” said Billy McGriff, president of Florida-based MG Sports Marketing, which brought in Zurich Financial Services and Farmers Insurance as title sponsors.

    The only event whose title deal is not locked in for 2012 is the Viking Classic, an opposite-field event in July the same week as the British Open. The tour is in talks with Viking Range Corp., an appliance maker, to extend, but the tournament is not in jeopardy, the tour’s chief marketer, Tom Wade, said.

    Title sponsorships for events on CBS or NBC range from $6 million to $8 million annually on most tournaments, with roughly half of the money going to a media buy with the network and the other half going to the tournament to cover purses and other expenses.

    “We’re in great shape, sponsor-wise,” Wade said. “We have several deals in place long-term, and those deals have significant escalators in pricing. That’s a huge contrast to 2009, when all the predictions were doom and gloom for the PGA Tour. Not that we weren’t concerned — everybody was concerned — but now we’re in a great place.”

    Such a solid base of title sponsors ensures that the tour can maintain its base of 43 tournaments and rich purses. It also enables the tour to deliver a robust stable of advertisers to its network partners.

    Tour partners, most of them title sponsors, account for 65 percent to 70 percent of the advertising on PGA Tour broadcasts. Being able to instantly deliver that level of advertising to its TV partners makes the tour that much more attractive as it negotiates the next deals.

    The PGA Tour’s current TV contracts with CBS and NBC expire after the 2012 season. Renewal talks began this summer.

    “TV negotiations are still a difficult task, but many of these title sponsors have long-term deals, which provides a level of security for the tour and its TV partners,” said Malcolm Turner, principal of WMG’s consulting group, which advises title sponsors Northern Trust and Nationwide, among others. “Having your title sponsors in place checks a very important box for the tour. The renewals and extensions are an important referendum on its value proposition as a property, despite all the economic headwinds.”

    As the tour enters its FedEx Cup playoffs this week at The Barclays, the only inventory it has to sell is the Nationwide umbrella sponsorship for the developmental tour, a “proud partner” position with The Players Championship and perhaps title sponsorship of the proposed tour in Latin America, although marketers say the tour hasn’t hit the streets full-force with that yet. Nationwide vacates the developmental tour after 2012.

    The tour’s largest deal, the umbrella sponsorship with FedEx, runs through 2012 with options to continue longer. Wade said he anticipates renewal talks with FedEx formalizing after the TV negotiations are complete.

    The sales success has led to increased revenue from sponsorships this year. Wade said that revenue from his group would be up 5 percent to 10 percent.

    “The worst period was 2009, when we had some sponsors that went through bankruptcies and we took a hit,” Wade said. “But we’re clearly back on track now, and we’ll see some nice increases in the future.”

    With companies still guarding their wallets closely, many properties have struggled to bring new money to their sports. The PGA Tour has not encountered the same resistance despite the pressure on the financial and automotive sectors, the two categories golf relies on the most.

    Among the new sponsors that have signed on since early 2010 are auto brands Cadillac and Hyundai, while financial firm RSM McGladrey and Farmers also brought in new money.

    Other companies, like Nationwide, were already in the sport before increasing their spending with an event title deal. RBC, already the title sponsor at the Canadian Open, added a deal for the Heritage, while Humana, an official marketing partner, added title sponsorship of the former Bob Hope Classic. The future of both of those tournaments was in doubt past this year without their new title sponsors.

    These deals have helped the tour keep its schedule intact for 2012 and gives it a healthy head start on negotiating extensions with the 11 title sponsors whose contracts expire in 2012.

    “The word is that there’s another company out there that’s just looking for a date,” McGriff said. “If someone blinks, there’s someone on the sidelines. It’s almost like there’s a waiting list.”

    The tour has done little to alter its sales approach throughout the past year and a half, said Wade, who pointed to the tour’s increased international exposure, better cooperation from players at hospitality events and improvements to PGATour.com as significant aids in the sales process.

    But for most sponsors, it still comes down to the tour’s core values: media, business-building through hospitality and charity.

    RSM McGladrey’s president, C.E. Andrews, cited the ability to increase awareness and build better client relationships last year when his company signed on to sponsor a Fall Series event at Sea Island, Ga.

    “There’s no question that this is a testament to the tour’s model and that it works,” Turner said. “It’s all been validated by their success. In private, I’m sure they would concede that their success is a bit of an upset given all of the economic turmoil. But they’ve had all hands on deck, and you can’t confuse effort with results. The tour has results.”

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