PGA, Bass Pro talking sponsorships in Branson

Eric Olson, SBJ EditorIt looks as though sponsorship negotiations between the PGA and Bass Pro Shops have come to an agreeable conclusion.

A couple weeks after a Bass Pro director claimed to have no knowledge about negotiations confirmed by a PGA senior vice president, the PGA Tour issued a media alert for a “historic announcement” planned in Branson.

The two parties will gather tomorrow morning at Big Cedar Lodge with appearances by seldom-seen Bass Pro and Big Cedar founder John Morris, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, World Golf Hall of Famer Tom Watson and the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon.

Those are some big guns, and their participation points to a hefty financial investment in the form of a PGA Tour title sponsorship.

Golfweek magazine snuffed out the deal early on when a story in its Jan. 24 edition followed up on Liberty Mutual’s November exit as sponsor of the staple event of the Champions Tour. Ric Clarson, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president of market development, called the talks serious between Bass Pro and the PGA.

The same month Liberty Mutual dropped out, Morris expanded his golf holdings, and now, we can start to see a possible strategy by the savvy Springfield businessman.

The Legends of Golf sponsorship connects to two golf course acquisitions by Morris: Branson Creek Golf Club in November and Murder Rock Golf and Country Club in late October.

As the new owner of the two courses, it appears Branson Creek is the course of choice for this two-man tournament, at least according to Golfweek.

Maybe it was straight truth or maybe it was smoke and mirrors, but when we pointed out Golfweek’s coverage to Bass Pro Shops Communications Director Tammy Sapp, she said the Springfield company had no information regarding the sponsorship. That statement was laced with doubt given a director-level official likely would have some knowledge about such a “historic” deal that would need significant communications to drum up interest and support for the summertime event.

Liberty Mutual, the Boston-based insurance company, had sponsored Legends of Golf dating back to 1980. Golfweek said it was the longest-running title sponsorship in golf, and it was held in Savannah, Ga., the past 11 years.

So what’s the buy-in for Bass Pro? It likely won’t be revealed at the news conference tomorrow, but according to Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, Champions Tour title sponsors cost between $2 million and $3 million a year. The sponsorships are structured similarly to the PGA Tour, but they’re cheaper and offer less exposure.

The price could push above $3 million if the deal includes an official marketing partnership with the PGA Tour. I don’t know if PGA Commissioner Finchem’s presence is any indication, but we’ll find out tomorrow. According to SportsBusinessDaily.com, the title sponsorships come with three days of coverage on Golf Channel.

In the probable move to Branson for its 36th event, those familiar with the negotiations say a June date is the target; the Champions Tour’s jam-packed schedule currently has two off weeks between the Principal Charity Classic, ending June 1, and the Encompass Championship, which begins June 20. It also appears a Bass Pro fishing tournament on Branson’s lakes could be in the cards for the golf pros ages 50 and older playing the Legends tour.

It’s shaping up that a golf pro the likes of Fred Couples, Nick Price or Tom Lehman could hit a hole in one and catch a big fish all in one weekend. And the Branson community could catch an economic windfall.

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