Without Sponsor, Local PGA Tour Stop in Jeopardy

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 20, 2006

The PGA Tour has set a May 15 deadline for organizers of Washington's tour event to come up with a title sponsor or face elimination from the schedule starting in 2007.

A month after Booz Allen, the title sponsor since 2004, decided not to renew its three-year sponsorship agreement, a replacement has not been found to commit the necessary funds -- about $4 million per year. The Tour's decision to move the event, which has been played in Washington since 1980, to the fall portion of the schedule beginning in 2007 was a factor in Booz Allen's decision to scale back its commitment.

"They have indicated to us they'd like to have the [2007] schedule finalized by mid-May," said Steve Lesnik, chairman of Kemper Sports Management, the Chicago-based company that runs the Washington tournament. "We're not close [to finding a title sponsor]. It's been a big boost to have Booz Allen remain in it at the million-dollar level. We've had two or three conversations with other companies we thought had a real interest, but they haven't materialized into anything yet."

Said PGA Tour spokesman Bob Combs: "We've indicated a willingness to be flexible. If there's something in the works that might take them a little more time, the tour would make every effort to look at it. It's a market we want to be in."

Lesnik said his preference would be to have a single title sponsor, but also indicated that a consortium of three or four sponsors committing between $500,000 and $1 million apiece could be an option.

"If we are unable to find a title sponsor or a consortium of sponsors, I'd say the tournament probably would not be played in 2007, but I would not say it's the end of the tournament," he said, adding that Kemper Sports Management also might commit the necessary funds to ensure the event's place on the 2007 schedule as a stopgap measure.

"That could not be done for more than a year. It would be on a respirator in '07, and it would have to be fully subsidized by 2008. And there's always the possibility that the tour could still pull the plug on it anyway. They could say that if the community doesn't step up to the plate, why should we go on? I don't speak for the tour, and I can't predict what the tour will do."

Booz Allen had wanted a commitment from the tour that future tournaments would not be held the week after the U.S. Open, when many of the game's top stars generally don't play. The fall series also is not expected to draw many marquee players.

The 2006 tournament, the week after the Open on June 19-25, has a commitment from defending champion Sergio Garcia to play, but Lesnik said about 25 local companies that use the event for corporate hospitality purposes have either reduced their financial commitments or pulled out entirely. He said it was still too early to determine whether ticket sales also will be adversely affected because most sales come in the six weeks before the tournament.

Changes in Hartford

The PGA Tour last week announced that the Hartford tournament, also initially relegated to the fall starting in 2007, had been restored to the summer schedule when 84 Lumber, the title sponsor for an event in Farmington, Pa., decided to pull its sponsorship after the 2006 tournament in September.

Hartford was able to find a new title sponsor -- the locally based St. Paul Travelers insurance company -- and will take over the slot the week after the U.S. Open.

Unlike the fall series of events, the 39 tournaments from January through early September will determine the players eligible for the new three-tournament FedEx Cup series leading up to the Tour Championship in 2007.

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