Las Vegas Sun

July 28, 2017

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Hard times take slice from Las Vegas PGA Tour event


Steve Marcus

Prime perch: A view of corporate tents along the 18th hole at TPC Summerlin is seen before the 2009 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, which runs Oct. 15-18.

The recession has forced local businesses to cut the money they spend at Southern Nevada’s stop on the PGA Tour, but it hasn’t stopped them or the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority from entertaining clients.

Companies are maintaining their presence at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin, but spending less, said Jan Leone, tournament director of sales. One example is skyboxes that companies purchase for $35,000 to entertain clients Thursday through Sunday. Instead of buying four days, some get them for two days, Leone said.

“Everybody is watching their pennies and what they are spending money on,” Leone said. “They are not spending the thousands of (extra) dollars they did before. It’s just the economy. We see a lot more local support, but it’s not necessarily big corporate tents and skyboxes because of the environment.”

Companies such as MGM Mirage, for example, are showing their support by sponsoring a hole in which 16 to 20 people serve as volunteer marshals. The number of volunteers has grown from about 600 last year to more than 800 this year, Leone said.

In response to the recession, the tournament is offering lower-priced packages to make it more affordable for companies that want to entertain clients, but be more frugal, Leone said.

Last year the smallest package the tournament offered at its champion’s club tent was $10,000 for 10 people. This year the packages are as small as $2,500 for four people, but the food has changed from upscale buffet to barbecue and hot dogs.

“Some companies don’t want to spend $10,000 on a private table,” Leone said. “People don’t have as much to spend to this year.”

Some companies aren’t buying a skybox but are purchasing tickets to The Hill, a pavilion overlooking the 16th, 17th and 18th holes for $100 a ticket for the week.

“They are finding it’s a good place to do business,” Leone said. “It is a way to entertain and relax in an easy atmosphere.”

That focus on smaller packages even affected what the tournament did to entice business executives and others who want to play in the celebrity pro-am competition. Last year it cost $8,000 and $10,000 to participate, but that was trimmed to $7,500 this year for the 140 competitors who play with 40 pros.

The PGA Tour stop has long been used by the convention authority with its hospitality tent on the 18th green that serves as a branding opportunity for Las Vegas on television and by bringing visitors here, said Julian Dugas, authority director of sports marketing.

Such sponsorships cost $145,000, he said.

In its tent that holds about 60 people, the authority entertains trade association and travel executives who help bring business to Las Vegas, Dugas said. The tent also features representatives from the hotel and airline industries, he said.

“Anytime you have a chance to showcase Las Vegas to clients, it works,” Dugas said. “It gives us an opportunity to bring people into town and give them a chance to play golf and entertain them throughout the week.”

Golf tournaments don’t bring a large number of people to the host city like other sporting events, but there is value in the four-day coverage on the Golf Channel and newspapers across the country, he said.

“That is where you get your value,” Dugas said. “It is a media opportunity and the value of media generated by this event is a great deal for us.”

While major sports draw better TV ratings and bigger in-person gates, Dugas said that golf’s unique appeal to the movers and shakers in American business creates a special appeal.

“Golf is corporate America,” he said.

The sponsorship by the Shriners Hospitals for Children has guaranteed the future of the tour stop for the next three years of its contract, while other PGA events have either lost sponsors or face losing them when their contracts expire.

Dugas said he doesn’t want to dwell on some other tournament’s misfortune, but admits that would create a coveted opportunity for Las Vegas to move the tournament to late winter or spring.

It would attract better players and network television coverage, which bump up the purse.

“If that happens, the whole ballgame changes in the world of golf,” Dugas said. “I think there is a 50 percent chance.”

The earliest that could happen, however, is 2011 or 2012 with a potential date in April or May, Dugas said.

The West Coast swing on the PGA Tour, however, takes place in January and February.

An early season switch of dates would generate even more interest by the business community to get involved, he added.

“If that happened, I think (Las Vegans) would look at this tournament in a different light,” Dugas said. “They look at it as a positive right now, but when you bring in top names of the sport to our city it just kicks the value up. The value goes through the roof.”

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