PALM HARBOR - Tampa Bay's annual PGA Tour event is once again officially looking for a corporate sponsor.
PODS, Inc., the Clearwater-based portable storage unit company that last year signed a six-year agreement to put its name on the March event, on Wednesday notified PGA Tour headquarters that is was invoking a two-year escape clause and will end involvement following the 2008 tournament.
"We have decided at this point in the company's strategic direction we are bowing out of sports," Paul Umberg, PODS senior vice president, said.
When asked if the decision is related to the reported sale of the company, Umberg answered, "It surely could be," before directing all inquires involving internal company business to legal representatives.
This means the tournament host, Suncoast Golf Classic, Inc., will be seeking its third title sponsor in six years and conducting its third search for a corporate partner in three years. Buick, Chrysler and PODS all have been associated with the event since 2002.
Making the lack of extended commitment baffling is that the tournament this year moved to a spot on the high-profile Florida Swing that leads into the Masters, and also that Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead course is one of the tour's most popular stops.
"That is factually correct," PGA Tour vice president Ty Votaw said of the sponsorship numbers. "But I would not read anything into it simply because the evolution has involved different circumstances. The event was in a different place on the schedule at one point. Yes, it has had different title sponsors, but each of those decisions was independent of each other.
"There was no commonality to the reasons that are relative to Tampa, Innisbrook Resort or the Copperhead course."
While the PODS Championship will go on as scheduled March 8-11, tournament organizers and PGA Tour officials promise to immediately begin a search for a new sponsor willing to commit to the approximate $7 million annual cost.
"In light of PODS' decision, we will be meeting with the tournament organization to develop strategies relating to the future of the tournament," said Henry Hughes, chief of operations for the PGA TOUR. "Innisbrook Resort is an outstanding host venue and the Copperhead Course is considered to be an exceptionally good challenge by our members."
Tournament director Gerald Goodman also remained optimistic for the future.
"Tampa Bay is a strong market and we do not believe we will have a problem finding another title sponsor," he said. "Our area is the 11th largest television market in the United States.
"Tampa Bay leads the country in a lot of categories in strength of many different products."