Reno-Tahoe plugs away at sponsor search

No. 8 at Montreux Golf and Country Club

Jana Smoley, first-year executive director of the Reno-Tahoe Open, is prepping for what she fondly refers to as her “open house” at Montreux Golf & Country Club, July 15-18.

Since coming on the job late last year, Smoley has been seeking a title sponsor to fill the role previously held by Legends at Sparks Marina, a Nevada-based upscale outlet center.

“We’ve had some really good leads,” she said. “The reality is it takes a lot for these things to come to fruition. We have several prospective sponsors that will attend our open house, if you will, to experience the tournament and get a feel for it.”

Being without a title sponsor is a familiar scenario for the tournament. In its 12-year history, the tournament has had a title sponsor for just two of them. It has survived as an opposite field event, thanks to the largesse of its four founding sponsors who have bankrolled the event since Day One: Eldorado Hotel, Montreux Golf & Country Club, NV Energy and Legends at Sparks Marina. (The latter remains involved at a lower level than its title sponsor days.) With a smaller purse and no network TV, the tournament’s sponsorship costs aren’t as expensive as typical Tour events.

The event endures without a title sponsor, getting by in piecemeal fashion. It added 38 new sponsors – everything from U.S. Bank and Bank of the West to Davidoff and Folio Winery. Do the new ones make up for the loss of a title sponsor?

“I’m getting there,” Smoley said. “We’re close. We’re doing well in a bad economy.”

Then she added: “I don’t mean to suggest we don’t still need help.”

Smoley, who spent five years on the tournament’s board of directors prior to assuming her new role, contends part of the problem is a failure to tell the event’s story properly. This realization occurred when she participated in the Tour’s Tournament Sponsor Meetings late last year. There was a session she compared to speed-dating. Representatives of the Tour’s corporate partners snaked through the room spending three minutes with each tournament director.

Smoley asked each of her “dates” to describe her Reno event in three words or less. Most stumbled to accurately portray its selling point.

“I said, ‘Stop, you’ve used your word limit. Let me show you our golf course.’ ” said Smoley who showcased photos of her venue. Jaws dropped. She said, they “had no idea. Most don’t.”

Smoley rattled off several reasons why the Reno-Tahoe Open would be an attractive sponsorship venue, from its high-income demographic to its scenic, snow-capped mountains venue and great weather.

The tournament still could use some help sorting out its date in the schedule. It moves up a month in the Tour season from its position opposite the WGC Bridgestone Invitational to the week of the British Open. That could mean a stronger field of Americans who fail to qualify across the pond. On the flip side, the tournament now shares a date with the American Century Championship, the popular celebrity classic in Lake Tahoe.

At first, organizers of the celebrity tournament expressed concern that scheduling the area’s two prominent golf events the same week would hurt attendance at both events. With the help of Golf in the High Sierras, a collective group of local area courses, they are promoting the tournament doubleheader as“where else in the world can you get golf at that level all in the same week?”

Spectators, Smoley noted, don’t usually attend all four days of a tournament anyway.

“If they come to our tournament for two days and then go see the celebrities play, that’s great,” Smoley said. “Yes, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t be on the same weekend, but it’s what you make of it. We think it is a pretty good story to tell.”

It is that same positive outlook that has the rookie tournament director looking forward to her open house at Montreux.

“This tournament isn’t going away,” Smoley said. “We’re getting stronger. The wind is finally at our back.”

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