As mentioned here on Friday, the tough economy ahead should not be faced with fear, but looked upon as a time to adapt.
What is now the RBC Canadian Open was facing difficult times before the overall economy began to seize up with no title sponsor, brutal dates on the PGA Tour schedule right behind the British Open and few marquee players willing to participate in 2007.
While some were predicting its demise just a couple of years ago, things have changed considerably since RBC came on board as title sponsor.
The Open now seems like one of the more solid events on a tour schedule with so many financial institutions and auto companies that have been battered by the economy in the past year.
“I think, obviously, all sports in general are going to feel it,” said tournament director Bill Paul. “Stuff’s been written about NASCAR, even the Super Bowl not being able to sell to traditional people.”
The arrival of RBC, which has been relatively unscathed compared to other financial institutions, solidified the Open, but there are still challenges ahead. While RBC is committed until 2012, other tournament sponsors are only committed through this year.
Also, the number of corporate hospitality tents being sold is a concern for tournament organizers across the PGA Tour.
“I think, as a whole, people are worried about the economy and where it’s going on a secondary sponsor level/corporate hospitality end of things,” said Paul. “I think that’s where a lot of people are going to feel it.
“We’re not resting on our laurels,” added Paul. “We’re trying to still go out and sign other sponsors, trying to engage our existing sponsors in on-site activities and, at the same time, going to all of our corporate hospitality buyers and asking, `What can we do to make it happen this year?’
“If we need to be flexible, we’ll be flexible.”
Paul says the days of a corporate executive writing a cheque just because he or she loves golf are over, and that making return on investment extremely important. That means tournament organizers must address a sponsor’s needs.
RBC was looking to create a fan-friendly environment at the Open and, as a result, several non-traditional methods were used at the 2008 edition at Glen Abbey. Some of those methods would have been taboo only a few years ago.
A concert series was held after play ended. Tournament organizers also worked with BMW to create more of a festive feel around the par three 15th hole at the Abbey, similar to the infamous party hole on the 16th hole at the FBR Open in Phoenix, even if it wasn’t as rowdy.
As well, more skyboxes were added and will continue to be added in order to accommodate companies that no longer purchase corporate tents.
“This is actually a trend happening on tour,” said Paul. “If you look at us, we’ve put more skyboxes up over the last five or six years. Our tent sales have gone down, but we’ve placed those people into other products (skyboxes).
“A number of customers have told us, `I don’t need to entertain 100 people a day or 200 people a day. I need something in the 30 to 70 range.’
“We’ve increased skyboxes on certain greens (at Glen Abbey) and we’ll continue to do it as we go down the road. People want to be on top of the action and what better way than in skyboxes?” said Paul, adding that more unconventional methods may be used in the future.
“We can go a lot further. I think we did a lot of things at Angus Glen (in 2007) that made sense. A lot more came about when we came (to Glen Abbey) in 2008 and signed RBC. Fan enhancements were important and we’re looking continually to do them. The concert series was a great idea last year,” said Paul.
Of course, when you’re talking corporate sponsors and the PGA Tour, you’re talking about entirely different budgets than what most golf course operators have to spend, but the theme is pretty much the same.
Open your mind to new ideas.
Is there something extra you can do to encourage a company to hold its corporate golf event at your facility? That company is also looking for an enhanced return on investment.
If you go to a hockey game this winter, is there something the home team does that causes the fans to react positively and can it be applied to golf?
The answers are worth checking out and thinking about as they might apply to your operation.
The difference between your operation and the one just down the road may be that you choose to be different.