GM Already Recovered, Ready to Spend Millions on Tour Sponsorships Again
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Tiger Woods' Cadillac Escalade post-Thanksgiving night and fire hydrant accident

There’s a good Tiger Woods joke somewhere in this story. According to Sports Business Journal, General Motors is reportedly in the final stages of negotiations with the PGA Tour to sponsor the World Golf Championship event at Doral and possibly other tournaments.

That’s right! GM has paid back its $6.7 billion in TARP Funds to the US Treasury.

An agreement with the PGA Tour that could span multiple tournaments would send a strong signal that the automaker is ready to spend again. Cadillac, the company’s luxury nameplate, has a history in golf that included endorsement deals with Fred Couples and several other golfers until the end of the 2008 season.

“The luxury auto brands can’t be expected to stay away from golf forever,” said Rich Luker, a trends research and marketing consultant. “I think it’s a great fit. Cadillac is not going to sell cars to the middle class, they’re going after the market that needs to be encouraged, the professional types that are willing to help revitalize industry in the U.S.”

The GM brand most synonymous with golf used to be Buick, which was the tour’s official vehicle from 1984-2009 and title sponsor of as many as four tournaments in a season. Buick also had a long-running endorsement deal with Tiger Woods through last year, but with that brand looking to market to a younger audience, industry sources say, Cadillac is now considered the better fit for the PGA Tour.

GM’s return to golf also would be a boon to Doral’s network partner, NBC, because $3 million to $4 million of the money spent on a title sponsorship goes toward media. Each title sponsorship typically comes with more than 30 ad units each on the network — NBC or CBS — and Golf Channel, at least half of which must be used during the event’s broadcast.

First things first, do you think Tiger would drive his own car down to Miami or get behind the wheel of a tournament courtesy car, presumably an Escalade? Imagine the photo ops!

GM was absent from golf in 2010 because, well, it would have been a public relations disaster (which I wrote about in the Huffington Post in July ’09). But now, a little over a year later, it’s socially acceptable for the company to jump right back in the golf sponsorship biz. At this past May’s Quail Hollow Championship, Wells Fargo still didn’t want its name attached — it was until August that it was announced the event would be renamed the Wells Fargo Championship in 2011.

But I understand that at some point, GM has to return to sponsoring golf tournaments for advertising purposes, but wouldn’t you think it would chose a quiet way to ease its way back to spending millions on a sport considered to be a playground for rich, white people (even if that’s not accurate)? Interesting that GM would dole out the cash to sponsor Doral, a WGC event that is rumored to have a price tag of near $15 million, rather than starting with something more modest, like bringing back a local tour stop that benefits the community for half the price.

Of course, nothing is finalized yet. And on Tuesday evening, the PGA Tour sent out a special news alert, thanking a few specific sponsors, Accenture, Bridgestone and HSBC — “The World Golf Championships and the World Golf Championships-Stroke Play Championship would not be possible without the support of our sponsors.”

Hyundai was the last company that was reportedly in talks with the Tour to pick up Doral, but a deal was never materialized. Recently, it’s been reported that Hyundai and the Tour are near finalizing an agreement for Hyundai to take over the title sponsorship of the SBS Championship — which would make sense since SBS and Hyundai are both Korean companies, not to mention perhaps Doral was too pricey for its taste.

But apparently it might not be for GM. If that’s the case, start getting ready for the WGC-Cadillac Championship! Wait, hold up, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. After all, nothing has been officially announced.