SBJ/September 17-23, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Avis puts ‘Extra Effort’ into tour player award

It’s an understatement to say that, until this year, the PGA Tour’s player of the month award was underutilized. Some of the tour’s own sales staff didn’t even know the award existed until Avis began negotiating for the rights to it last year.

In fact, the player of the month award has existed for nearly 30 years, but no one had considered it much of a marketing asset. It was just a press release that went to inboxes and died a lonely death each month.

Avis also took over space on the leaderboard in its first year with the PGA Tour.
Photo by: PGA TOUR
As Avis and agency Team Epic negotiated with the tour about an official marketing partnership, they asked the tour for the rights to the monthly honor. This, they thought, was one way for Avis to make a big splash in the first year of its sponsorship.

“The award gives the brand exposure with the top players in the game,” said Tom Gartland, Avis’ president in North America. “We thought it made a lot of sense.”

Suitably, the player of the month was nearly an afterthought in the negotiations. Avis and the tour were roughly 80 percent of the way to a deal when the award was put on the table. Negotiations had reached common ground on cost, and then it became a matter of adding more marketing elements to Avis’ deal. That’s when the award was suggested and eventually included in the package.

In Avis’ first year as an official marketing partner, the player of the month has been transformed into one of the company’s most visible tools. Because fans now vote for the winner at PGATour.com, it gives Avis digital promotion, a fan engagement piece, and an association with the game’s best players.

This year’s list of winners includes Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler. Avis pays $50,000 to the winner’s charity of choice.

Avis uses a monthly TV segment during the final round of a tournament to announce the award’s winner. Gartland or CMO Jeannine Haas will appear on network TV (CBS or NBC) to give the award to the winner. They use the wording “Extra Effort” in the presentation, a slogan adopted instead of “We Try Harder” in Avis’ golf marketing.

“The player of the month was really an undervalued asset, to say the least,” said Joe Zajac, the Team Epic executive who has worked closely with Avis on the deal points and the activation. “Putting the vote into the hands of the fans has been a big deal and it’s really taken off.”

The player of the month is just one of several components that Avis put to good use this year. Taking over for National, which had owned the tour’s car rental category for more than a decade, Avis knew that it had to make an impression right away.

In addition to the award, Avis took over half of the signage on the tour’s LED leaderboards, sharing the space with MasterCard. Kodak had been in that position in the past.

Avis also struck a deal with golfer Steve Stricker for appearances and space on his shirt collar, giving the car rental company a well-rounded program that included digital (player of the month voting), an array of golf-themed TV ads, on-site signage and a player ambassador. Avis provides employees, players, instructors, caddies and anyone else associated with the tour a discount code for car rentals.

Industry experts say such a deal with the tour would typically cost in the mid-seven figures. The Stricker deal was negotiated separately with his representatives at IMG.

“To rejuvenate player of the month with a fan engagement component, all done digitally, has really turned it into a powerful social media component,” Haas said. “We’ve seen a number of players going to Facebook and Twitter to get their fans to vote for them.”

One of the most powerful pieces of the sponsorship — the business-to-business component — has been cultivated over the course of the year.

This week, in a suite overlooking the 17th green at East Lake Golf Club, site of the Tour Championship, Gartland will meet with the president of another PGA Tour official marketing partner. About five times this year, Avis has created hospitality events to host current and potential clients.

Meetings with key decision-makers over the course of the year has Gartland confident that the sponsorship will easily pay for itself.

“People don’t make big decisions like this overnight, but are we pleased? Yes,” Gartland said. “Is it over the top? Not yet, but we’re making great progress.”

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