FedEx offers reprieve to hometown Tour event

John Daly watches his tee shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2010 St. Jude Classic.

The St. Jude Classic’s prayers have been answered – at least for one more year.

FedEx has stepped up as title sponsor of its hometown event. The 2011 rendition of the longtime Tour stop in Memphis will be called the FedEx St. Jude Classic and take place June 9-12 at TPC Southwind.

“I slept like a log last night for the first time in a long time,” said tournament director Phil Cannon.

The tournament thought its future was on solid ground when Stanford Financial signed a 10-year commitment in 2007. But the St. Jude had been skating on thin ice ever since the Securities Exchange Commission accused Stanford Financial of “massive fraud” in February 2009.

This year, tournament organizers pieced together a consortium of eight companies, led by presenting sponsor Smith & Nephew, a developer of advanced medical devices for healthcare professionals, to ensure that a show running for more than 50 years on Tour would go on.

How perilous was the tournament’s future? Cannon penned a letter to players and caddies explaining how the tournament needed a title sponsor to survive and asked them to wear a maroon ribbon during this year’s final round in a show of support.

Cannon said the deal with FedEx was consummated earlier this week after frenetic negotiations among the Tour, FedEx and the tournament’s board. The length of the agreement wasn’t disclosed, nor was it clear whether FedEx is paying a typical title sponsorship rate (estimated at $8 million) or was given a discount due to its position as one of the Tour’s top partners.

What will happen to the tournament beyond next year still is anyone’s guess.

“We continue to focus on a multi-year commitment to assure the tournament’s future success in Memphis,” said commissioner Tim Finchem in a press release.

Earlier this week, Finchem also confirmed that the Tour is in talks to bring a tournament back to Michigan. Speculation exists that if St. Jude can’t deliver a long-term title sponsor that a Michigan-based event could take over St. Jude’s date in the 2012 schedule.

FedEx previously sponsored the St. Jude Classic from 1986 to 2006, but relinquished that role when it assumed umbrella sponsorship of the Tour’s season-long points race and playoffs, the FedEx Cup. FedEx has two years remaining on its sponsorship of the Cup.

“We had 21 great years with FedEx, and we’re hoping that as discussions continue we can find some middle ground that would allow FedEx to remain with us for another 21 more,” Cannon said. “At the end of the second 21 years, I’ll be 80. That should be enough work for me.”

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