Big sponsors pull out of celebrity golf

February 13, 2009 7:25:54 PM PST
The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on the Monterey Peninsula managed to escape the threat of rain on Friday, but it's having a harder time escaping the realities of the economic downturn. Now this major sporting event is struggling for corporate sponsors.

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The views at the AT&T Pro-Am are spectacular, the golf is world class, but the upscale sporting event is not immune to the recession.

"I have to say it is scaled back with a lot less people," said a spectator.

You'll still see the crowds at Pebble Beach, but tournament organizers say ticket sales are down about 20 percent and so are sponsorships.

Some of last year's big name sponsors are gone this year are Lehman Brothers which went bankrupt in September, bank investment Morgan Stanley and real estate giant CB Richard Ellis.

A corporate presence at the AT&T starts at $85,000. The number of chalets or hospitality tents has dropped from 12 last year to eight this year.

"We understand what's going on, it just doesn't work for them at this point in time and I've even written to all of them saying, 'We appreciate your support long term and hope to have you back in the future,'" said Ollie Nutt, from the Monterey Peninsula Foundation.

The title sponsor AT&T has a contract that runs through 2014. Other contracts run from one to four years so Intel and Yahoo, which both have a skybox on the 18th fairway, could be locked in. They didn't return our calls. A number of privately held companies did speak up.

"I don't think you're going to see quite the entertainment that you used to but for us, we're in it for the long haul," Twila Carter, from The Crane Group.

Kohler which sells plumbing fixtures says now is exactly the time to be promoting business and rewarding valued clients.

"Even in slow economic times, it's important to keep those relationships and build on new relationships," Tracy del Dotto, a Kohler branch sales manager.

For the AT&T, the real relationship is with local charities. Last year the tournament doled out nearly $7 million to non-profits. This year it hopes to top $6 million.

"Golf gives back to charity more than all other sports combined. It's not even close," said Nutt.

So even in a tight economy, companies and spectators can feel good about enjoying a little golf.

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