Originally created 04/12/98

Commercial element absent at tournament



The gates are closed to their hospitality tents, their banners and their display cars. But Fortune 500 corporations still see green when they look at the Masters Tournament.

For sportswear giant Nike, working the prestigious tournament is much like the Wimbledon tennis championships: Tradition forbids commercial intrusion, said Robin Carr-Locke, corporate communications manager for the Beaverton, Ore.-based company.

Although it is not a written policy, it is a longstanding tradition at Augusta National not to accept advertising or sponsorships or even allow company signs on the grounds.

That's unusual in the sports world, where sponsorships often help pay the bills for putting on major tournaments. And it's particularly unusual because Augusta National Golf Club's members include presidents of major national corporations that would rent corporate tents at the Masters, said Gordon Dalgleish, president of InterGolf, a travel agency offering trips to exotic golf courses for duffers who want to play renowned fairways.

"It's one area that's amusing," Mr. Dalgleish said of the Masters and Augusta National.

However, Augusta National's membership roster is closely guarded, and club officials wouldn't discuss whether corporate executives are active in the private golf club.

"No banners or retail tents, but that's OK because we have Tiger Woods wearing (the logo)," Ms. Carr-Locke said. "We let our athletes speak for the brand."

Nike signed Mr. Woods to an undisclosed deal reportedly worth millions and then watched as it paid off in a fast start and huge galleries leading up to the 1997 Masters. Then he won the tournament by a record-shattering 12 strokes and became the youngest Masters champion and first black to win the coveted green jacket.

Ms. Carr-Locke didn't attend the tournament in 1997 and didn't witness Mr. Woods' historic triumph. But she certainly felt it the next morning when by 10 a.m., "I had 35 voice-mails waiting" from reporters wanting to know what the victory would mean to Nike, she said.

Even in highly restricted events such as the Masters or Wimbledon, the sports marketing people want to be on hand to look after "the brand" and answer media queries, Ms. Carr-Locke said. She was in Augusta for the first two days of the 1998 Masters to answer the flood of Tiger-Nike questions.

And the attraction of the Masters, again much like Wimbledon, is that same tradition also makes it more difficult for companies to take advantage of the tournament, Ms. Carr-Locke said.

"That's the Crown Royale of golf," she said. "It's the pinnacle. It's historic."

General Motors' Cadillac Motor Car Division is one of only two corporations allowed to advertise during the Masters, but you wouldn't know it if you didn't watch television.

The rolling greens won't bear a hint of the promotional banners, tents or shiny display cars the company brings to other sports events it sponsors throughout the year. The broadcast, co-sponsored by Cadillac and Travelers Insurance Cos., is the only venue they have to promote their products.

Sounds like a bad deal?

Not at all, says Doug Comb, Cadillac's events manager.

Controlling all advertising spots during the nationally broadcast golf event, as well as the electronic billboards announcing the scores on television, "give us a sense of owning the event," he said.

"We don't have access to the ground, or dealers available to show cars and to do other activities. But we associate the Masters with having that exclusive advertising ownership," Mr. Comb said. "For years, people have associated Cadillac with golf because of that association."

In the advertising world it's called co-branding: Making a top sports event "rub off" on an exclusive car, and vice versa. According to Mr. Comb, it has paid off. Cadillac is the No. 1 car you see at country clubs and sports clubs today, he said.

Neither Cadillac nor Travelers Insurance Companies would divulge what their contracts with Augusta National are worth.

Like Nike, Cadillac sponsors individual players it hopes will make Cadillac's wreath-and-crest logo a household symbol for American golf fans.

This year, Cadillac-sponsored PGA player Fred Couples was expected to compete at the Masters wearing a Cadillac outfit. He also will appear in television commercials, perhaps driving the luxurious car the company has provided him for a year.

In past years, Cadillac has sponsored celebrity golfers Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino. What such sponsorships cost are between the players and the company, the automaker says.

It's a natural, explained Nike's Ms. Carr-Locke, "to be associated with a sport that's so very popular with everybody, in one way or another."

Walter C. Jones of Morris News Service contributed to this article.