U.S. Bank drops Milwaukee sponsorship

Updated: May 11, 2009, 7:41 PM ET
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- Without a new title sponsor, the future of Milwaukee's PGA Tour stop will be in serious jeopardy. Getting that kind of commitment out of a company is not easy in this economy -- especially for a tournament that is played opposite the British Open.

U.S. Bank will not renew its sponsorship after this year's tournament in July, and tournament director Dan Croak is searching for a replacement.

"We need a big sponsor -- or, as we've had in the past, a couple of big sponsors -- to take the biggest piece of the puzzle," Croak said Monday. "And then we're able to sell smaller pieces within the community. We are moving forward as if we need a title sponsor to continue."

Sponsorship is a major chunk of a tournament's budget; Croak wouldn't give a specific figure, but allowed that it accounts for "probably 50 percent" of revenues.

"The way that the PGA Tour structures itself, you can't do it without [a sponsor]," he said.

And while Croak said PGA Tour officials have not given him a firm deadline by which the tournament must find a new sponsor to assure its place on the 2010 schedule, he knows the clock is ticking.

"I think that you have to be realistic and say there is a point in time where if you don't have a sponsor, they have the opportunity to not put you on the schedule," Croak said. "But we have not had that discussion with the Tour."

Trying to sell sponsorship during an economic downturn is hard enough. But Croak said a recent wave of public outrage directed at companies that held lavish retreats after receiving government bailout money created a perception that any company that spends money on entertaining clients is being wasteful -- further scaring off potential sponsors.

"It sent everybody running for cover," Croak said. "And I think if everybody understood that [in] sports marketing, Miller didn't put its name on Miller Park because it was bad for business. They're selling more beer because they did that, and that's how people do it."

Croak recently met with PGA Tour officials and says discussions with potential new sponsors are moving -- if slowly.

"There are a couple of companies who have expressed interest in title sponsorships with the Tour, and our opportunity then gets presented to them, among others," Croak said. "And we've talked to a couple of companies here in town and are either getting more information for them or doing other things as we move along. It's a slow process, but I think we knew it would be slow."

Croak says the tournament's commitment to raising money for Children's Hospital of Wisconsin makes it more attractive to companies.

"It's much easier to say the primary beneficiary of this tournament is Children's Hospital," Croak said. "And then they say, 'Oh, yeah. It is about charity.'"


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press