Thursday, May 15, 2008

USGA Adds 4th Corporate Sponsor...This is Getting Ridiculous

RBS becomes the latest sponsor to join up with the USGA, as was announced yesterday. Doug Ferguson has the story for the AP.

The U.S. Golf Association announced a four-year deal Wednesday with the Royal Bank of Scotland, the fourth corporate partnership it has signed in 18 months after going 113 years without one.

"We were looking for real top companies that shared a cultural vision with the USGA and really understood the game of golf, which is what we're all about," Pete Bevacqua, chief business officer of the USGA, said during a conference call. "To join forces with a company like RBS, it's just a real treat for us."

Financial terms of the agreement were not released, although two officials aware of the negotiations said it was about $3 million a year. RBS has long been involved with the Royal & Ancient at the British Open, and recently signed on with the PGA of America. It also has a licensing agreement to use the Masters brand in advertising for BBC coverage.

RBS is everywhere lately. The funny thing is that they do not sponsor tournaments, just organizations. They get love now from all of the major championships. It is an interesting strategy.

Still, the problem here is that the USGA has again engaged in business-like behaviors when that is not the stated mission of the organization. As Ferguson mentions, this is the fourth alliance created in the last 18 months. To review:

The USGA did not have any corporate partners until it signed American Express in November of 2006. Since then, the USGA has added Lexus, IBM and now RBS. The companies all are listed on the USGA's web site as corporate partners.
To the USGA's credit, it has not taken this corporate stuff TOO far...yet.

American Express had a corporate tent for its members last year at the U.S. Open, and it allowed 82 of them to pay $900 to play Oakmont and tag along with Tiger Woods - who endorsed Amex at the time - as he played a practice round.

Lexus became the official courtesy car at USGA championship, while IBM is taking over the information systems at USGA events. The USGA was not specific about the role RBS will have at its biggest tournaments, saying that RBS will support "new media platforms" and contribute to the USGA's "For the Good of the Game" program that takes golf to new audiences.

I was definitely not thrilled about the AmEx outing. I thought that was a bit much. All the USGA got out of that was AmEx's mailing list. That does not seem like an even transaction, especially when it does not really give much benefit at all to members of the USGA - a member-driven organization. They are there for the good of the game and the people that play it, not for themselves.

Lexus made sense, and they pretty much have stayed out of the way. IBM should have been running the information systems to start, although Cisco was not bad at all. Now, we have RBS.

The sponsorships seem logical to the untrained eye. That's the problem. It isn't that these sponsorships don't help the USGA in some fashion - money, membership, website, etc. The problem is that the USGA is a non-profit that is not necessarily working in the keen interest of its membership in as transparent of a fashion as they are selling stake in the organization.

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