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After this year, Tampa Bay's PGA event won't have one. But the director is "very confident."
By Rodney Page, Times Staff Writer
Published March 3, 2008
Gerald Goodman, tournament director of the PODS Championship, is as optimistic as they come. He has seen his tournament change from a mixed team event to a fall PGA event and finally gain a coveted spot in the March Florida Swing.
In 30 years, corporate title sponsorship has switched from JCPenney to Chrysler to PODS Enterprises Inc. In 2007, a deal was struck with PODS to be the title sponsor (at nearly $7-million per year) through 2012. But the Clearwater company was sold to Arcapita Inc. of Bahrain in December, and the company invoked its bail-out clause.
So Goodman is back to Square 1.
"We feel very confident," he said. "And (the PGA) tells us over and over, 'You are a priority.' Right now, we are anticipating a sponsor."
If not, the tournament, which is run by Suncoast Golf Inc., a nonprofit organization, could be in danger of ending its run in Tampa Bay. When Chrysler left in 2006, PODS didn't come to the rescue until seven weeks before the first tee time. The PGA will not wait that long this time.
"Realistically, we can't wait until the fall," said Tim Crosby, PGA director of business affairs. "We have to have some sense of urgency after this year's tournament. I don't want to tie it down, but I'd say late spring, early summer, probably. We're working pretty hard. Our marketing team has made I can't tell you how many presentations. We've got Tampa, and we've got Atlanta (AT&T is out as title sponsor after 2008).
"Our first priority is to get Tampa back on its feet. But we do have Plan B's sitting out there."
That, Crosby said, could mean returning the Tampa Bay tournament to a fall date while one of the fall events would move to March 16-22, 2009. Worse case, it's dropped from the 2009 schedule.
"It's conceivable we could move it to the fall series," Crosby said. "The financial obligations are less because it's Golf Channel, cable instead of network, so it's about a quarter of the (advertising obligation) cost. Plus, that would buy a little more time to find somebody.
"Our first preference is to keep everything intact. But barring that, we're going to have to take a hard look at it."
Putting on a PGA event is not cheap. The cost can reach $10-million per year, factoring in prize money, television advertising obligations and tournament operating costs. Crosby said the PGA puts up 60 percent of the prize money for the PODS Championship. This year's total purse is $5.3-million.A new sponsor would be asked to commit $6-million to $6.5-million annually.
The PGA has been in Tampa Bay since 2000. In the 23 years before that, it was a mixed PGA and LPGA event called the JCPenney Classic. Innisbrook's Copperhead Course has been widely praised by PGA Tour members.
"Copperhead is one of our best courses on tour," 2007 champion Mark Calcavecchia said. "Not just saying that because I won. I've always thought that."
This year's field has five of the top-10 money winners. In wooing a title sponsor, Goodman has to assemble an attractive field. That means traveling to other tournaments trying to convince players to commit to Palm Harbor.
"You have to stand in that locker room trying to talk to guys that don't necessarily want to talk to you," he said. "You have to do your homework. You have to know something about these guys that they don't think you know. I told Ernie Els that if he came to our tournament I'd buy some of his wine. Just to let him know that I knew he had his own wine."
Els will play in Palm Harbor this week.
To assure players they can compete in Tampa Bay after this week, Goodman, 51, must spend time making pitches to potential sponsors. He will go local or global, spending as much as half the year out of his office.
"You'd love a local company because they would take a huge interest in you being there," he said. "But then again, I just need a sponsor."
In 2000 and 2002 (the 2001 event was not played because of the Sept. 11 terror attacks) the tournament was called the Tampa Bay Classic. Chrysler stepped in as title sponsor in 2003-06.
It cannot become the Tampa Bay Championship in 2009 because it would be too costly for Suncoast Golf to underwrite it.
"They have to have a consortium of sponsors or a title sponsor for them to be financially viable," Crosby said. "They don't have the reserves to go through a year without a title sponsor. Some tournaments have been planning for the rainy day, and they could get through a year with a title sponsor. But the Suncoast Golf Group has not had that opportunity.
"We're cautiously optimistic would be my position."
About the PODS Championship
When/where: PGA Tour tournament through Sunday; Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, Palm Harbor
Today: Free pro practice rounds and Aim for the Heart Pro-Am, 12:30 p.m. shotgun start at Innisbrook; qualifying for four spots, Fox Hollow Golf Club, 10050 Robert Trent Jones Parkway, New Port Richey, (727) 376-6333 or toll-free at 1-800-943-1902.
[Last modified March 2, 2008, 22:04:39]