Monday, July 28, 2008

Bad Weekend for LPGA Sponsorship

First, on Friday, Semgroup filed for bankruptcy protection.

The SemGroup Championship has been played in May at Cedar Ridge Country Club in Broken Arrow, but it seems likely a new title sponsor for the event will be needed, as Tulsa-based SemGroup LP filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday after losing a reported $2.4 billion in hedged trading on the oil futures markets.

Doug Eibling of Octagon, a sports management and marketing company that owns the LPGA event, said Friday a search has started to replace SemGroup as the title sponsor.

The bright side of this is that there may already be other sponsors coming to the table.
Eibling, the tournament's director, said that as SemGroup's troubles became public knowledge this week, Octagon received calls from three potential title sponsors, which he declined to name.
Who knows how reliable that statement is, of course, but you have to take it on face value. This is something the LPGA probably did not see coming. If you have been watching the stock market of late, though, you would know this is a distinct possibility because of a SEC investigation into the organization.

Also, even if the event remains, it will likely not attract the same caliber of field it once did because of the number of players sponsored by SemGroup - Cristie Kerr among them. Still, it would be a great event to salvage since it is played on a major championship layout.

If that was not bad enough, there was arguably worse news reported by Ron Sirak on Saturday about the Ginn Tribute. Namely, that it's done.
The Ginn Tribute which, along with the Ginn Open, has a $2.6 million purse, the richest of any U.S.-based LPGA event except the U.S. Women's Open, will not return in 2009, multiple sources told Golf World. While neither the LPGA nor Ginn would confirm the demise of the Tribute, which is played at RiverTowne CC near Charleston, S.C., neither expressed optimism about its future.

"If I had to handicap the situation right now I would say that it is less than 50-50 that the Ginn Tribute will happen in 2009," LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens told Golf World at the Evian Masters. "That said, we will have a tournament to replace it."
Of course, Commish Bivens is really leaving herself open to some criticism here. She basically killed off the ShopRite Classic just outside of Atlantic City - a well-supported event that the players liked - in lieu of giving the Tribute this date.

Unfortunately for the LPGA Tour, this event never really got off of the ground. Poor weather last year led to lousy attendance. The event brought in local Beth Daniel as the Tributee of the event in the hopes of drumming up additional interest.

The biggest problem, though, was getting into a relationship with a real estate company. Given the downturn in the real estate realm, this was inevitable anyway. Even worse, though, is that Ginn bit off way more than they can chew. By taking opportunities to sponsor four events - 2 LPGA, 1 PGA Tour, 1 Champ Tour - they were on the hook for almost $25 million in sponsorship dollars.

Sirak mentions that the Ginn Open may become the new Ginn Tribute. But that would throw a wrench into the rumor that Ginn would like to step up and host a LPGA Tour major. Again, it would be in the best interests of the Tour not to do that.

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