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For sale: Champions Tour sponsorship

City running out of time to find replacement sponsor for golf event that brings millions in revenue

Posted: March 22, 2009 1:42 a.m.
Updated: March 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.

When AT&T bowed out of sponsoring the Champions Classic, it was said a professional golf competition in the Santa Clarita Valley would be dead after this year's event.

But the obituary isn't ready to be written yet.

Santa Clarita city officials and one prominent tour golfer are working on ways to get a Champions Tour event in the Santa Clarita Valley in 2010.

Additionally, Champions Tour president Mike Stevens said it's not too late for a 2010 competition, but a new sponsor would have to be found by the summer for the event to return to Santa Clarita.

AT&T has been the presenting sponsor of the AT&T Champions Classic for the last four years, but it did not renew its agreement with the Champions Tour for a future event.

The telecommunications company tried for a year to help the city of Santa Clarita find a new presenting sponsor, to no avail.
According to Stevens, sponsoring an event costs somewhere in the $2 million to $3 million range.

But as the clock ticks, there is competition from other areas for the event and other tournaments for the March time slot. "We're working down parallel paths to salvage an event for the area, but also looking at possibilities as it is a prime week," Stevens said.

"There could be other folks or other opportunities we have to consider as well."

Two-time AT&T Champions Classic winner and Champions Tour golfer Tom Purtzer suggested the $1.6 million purse be reduced.

"When so many people are losing their jobs, losing their houses, losing you-name-it ... if we're going to keep playing tournaments, we're going to have to take a hit too," Purtzer said. "And whether we're playing for a million or whether we're playing for X amount of dollars, if there's some way we could play here for a million or whatever the number is, I think we as a unit need to do that.

"There's got to be something we can do to keep the event here in Santa Clarita instead of just saying, ‘Oh well.'"

Purtzer said it would be advantageous for golfers on the tour to hold a meeting soon on this particular subject.

Reducing the purse wouldn't necessarily change things that much, though, Stevens said.

The major hangup for a possible future event in Santa Clarita is money.

No new sponsor has been found.

"Candidly, there have not been enough high-level local sponsors to make it happen," said Brian Fitzgerald, executive director of the Champions Classic. "(The event) needs one big title sponsor or five to six (smaller sponsors) to keep it (in Santa Clarita)."

With the window for a new sponsor and an agreement to play the event at Valencia Country Club closing from day to day, Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar will hold a meeting this week to brainstorm what can be done.

But one major sponsor of the golf event is skeptical about the city's efforts to retain the classic.

Jeff Kreitzman, CEO of Santa Clarita-based tire company American Pacific Industries, said his company spends about $150,000 a year on the event between its pro-am tournaments, accommodations for API clientele and other expenditures.

"It is a disaster that the city has lost the event," Kreitzman said.

The businessman pointed to a meeting in the fall with Champions Tour and city officials and local business leaders as the cause of some ill feeling between the tour and the city.

City Manager Ken Pulskamp left the meeting before it was over. Kreitzman believes that the departure was a sign that the city was not working hard enough to keep the classic going.

"I'm sure that some people think we haven't done enough, and some who think we've done too much," Pulskamp said. "We strongly support this event."

Kellar came to Pulskamp's defense, saying the city manager is under a time crunch every day and has a limited amount of time for meetings because of his schedule.

Stevens said the Champions Tour has felt support from Santa Clarita businesses and the city.

Kreitzman said he would pour even more money into a future event to keep it around.

According to Pulskamp, the city spends approximately $100,000 for the event, which includes money for promotion, transportation and law enforcement.

The event brings a $7 million economic benefit to the city, according to Santa Clarita's department of economic development - the largest event the city has.

Kellar said the city is committed to the event, but he said there is reluctance to save money by not pursuing other events, in particular the Amgen Tour of California cycling race, to keep the golf event.

There is also reluctance to exceed the amount of money the city has spent in the past on the AT&T Champions Classic because of the current economic climate.

Yet Kellar said he has an open channel to the Champions Tour.

"Everything is on the table," he said of ways the city can try to keep the event. "We've been communicating with the PGA (owners of the Champions Tour). We're going to even step it up and try harder."

Stevens said that he has seen deals with the Champions Tour come together in the 11th hour.


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