Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Unlikely sponsor puts LPGA event back on the rails: CN to be unveiled as underwriter of Canadian Open

Robert Thompson On Golf
National Post
The Royal Canadian Golf Association has pulled one out of thefire.Just as the organization looked to be on the verge of shutting downits LPGA event, the group , that runs all of Canada's majorprofessional and amateur golf tournaments has located a companywilling to cover the significant costs.
Sources have confirmed the RCGA will announce today at a newsconference in Montreal that Canadian National Railway will take overfrom the Bank of Montreal as sponsor of the women's Canadian Open.
Golf sources could not confirm the value of the sponsorship, buthaving a lead company back the event will at least allow thetournament, which is scheduled to be played this summer at theLondon Hunt and Country Club in London, Ont., to proceed.CN isn't a natural sponsor for golf. Unlike Bank of Montreal, it isn't a company that appeals to consumers, unless they suddenly feelthe urge to ship some heavy freight.
"When I first heard it was CN, I was astounded," said one source."I had to ask the person to repeat what they had said. It didn'tmake any sense."
Still, the company has other sponsorships, including the SpruceMeadows horse jumping tournament and the Canadian Paralympic team.But the LPGA event will be its highest-profile foray into sports.There had been concern the tournament would be cancelled as theRCGA had spent several fruitless months trying to land a newsponsor.
The organization's self-imposed deadlines to announce a new sponsor came and went in recent months.
But according to sources close to the RCGA, a member of theorganization's board of governors approached CN in early Septemberat the men's Bell Canadian Open in Vancouver. The deal with therailway company was then concluded quickly.Sports sponsorships have become much more difficult to obtain fromcorporate Canada over the last few years as companies have becomeincreasingly frugal with their marketing dollars. The RCGA's Champions Tour event disappeared when a sponsor could not be foundto replace AT&T after the 2002 tournament.However, CN won't solve all of the problems the RCGA faces with thewomen's Canadian Open. The event, which was considered a majorchampionship lost its status -- and most of its top players -- whenCanadian legislation governing tobacco advertising forced du Maurierto drop its sponsorship.
Though BMO stepped in to salvage the event,few of the top names in women's golf have bothered to venture to Canada lately.What's changed to get CN on board? No one at the company wouldcomment yesterday, but the sudden renewed interest in women's golffollowing the emergence of teen superstars such as Michelle Wie andPaula Creamer is surely a factor. After years of ignoring women's golf, sports media have jumped on the Wie bandwagon, making her oneof sport's most marketable stars.The next hurdle for the RCGA will be getting Bell Canada to renewits deal to back the men's Canadian Open. The current deal ends in 2007 and, despite promises from the RCGA that a new deal is in theoffing, the situation has been quiet as of late. Michael Sabia, CEO of BCE, which controls Bell Canada, is an avid golfer, but he may not be willing to continue spending the millions needed to sponsorthe tournament.

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