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Thursday, Jul 31, 2014

Landing title sponsor secures Innisbrook golf tournament


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The 13-year-old PGA Tour golf tournament draws tens of thousands of people to Palm Harbor each spring and advertises the area to TV viewers across the world.

Up until this week, though, there was no guarantee it would return next year.

The problem has been getting — and keeping — a name and a title sponsor for the tournament.

Since its inception, the event has been called the Tampa Bay Classic, the Chrysler Championship, the PODS Championship and the Transitions Championship.

In March, with no title sponsor investing big dollars for naming rights, the tournament became the Tampa Bay Championship, meaning the event’s organizers at Copperhead Charities and smaller sponsors had to float the tournament financially.

Friday, tour officials announced a four-year title sponsorship agreement with paint company Valspar, along with additional backing by BB&T Bank. The agreements mean the tournament’s future is on solid financial ground, organizers say.

“I can’t tell you exactly how long we would have made it, but I do know this: We’re very excited to welcome both these new partners,” Tournament Director Kevin Krisle said.

The Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club is a favorite for many PGA players, and the tournament gets viewership in more than 220 countries through broadcasts on NBC and the Golf Channel.

Last March, the event drew an estimated 75,000 people from 45 different states and generated 6,000 hotel room stays, according to numbers submitted by the tournament to the Pinellas County Tourist Development Authority.

The tournament is among so-called elite events such as the Honda Grand Prix in St. Petersburg that receive financial support from the county.

The 2014 tournament in March was approved for $125,000 in funds that come from the county’s tourist development tax.

“The media coverage that you get for an entire weekend showing that beautiful course, and, most of the time, fabulous weather, you just can’t put a value on that,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala, who lives near the course in Palm Harbor.

So why was the tournament one of the only events going into next year’s PGA Tour without a title sponsor?

“In some cases, it’s simply a matter of companies rethinking their marketing strategy and redirecting their marketing dollars out of professional sports, in some cases, into other traditional advertising,” said Andy Padzer, chief of operations for the PGA Tour.

A PGA event in Palm Springs, Calif., went two years without a sponsor before it became the Humana Challenge, Padzer said.

Tournaments, though, can’t normally survive very long without the financial support of a big brand, he said.

The PGA had been considering alternative tour stops during March, when players normally head to Innisbrook, in the event organizers failed to secure a title sponsor, Padzer said.

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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