N’wide in for Memorial; out as tour sponsor

A crowd forms around Tiger Woods' group at the 2010 playing of The Memorial.

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Matt Every at the 2009 Nationwide Tour Championship.

DUBLIN, Ohio – Nationwide Insurance announced Friday it will end its title sponsorship of the PGA Tour’s developmental circuit when the contract expires in two years.

Instead, Nationwide will stay involved in golf starting in 2011 as the presenting sponsor of the Memorial Tournament, founded and hosted by Jack Nicklaus.

“We’ve been very, very happy for the last eight years with the Nationwide Tour, but when we have the opportunity to step up and present the Memorial, it was too good of an opportunity to pass (up),” said Jim Lyski, Nationwide executive vice president. “When you look at that, and you look at the inventory we have in golf, you reach diminishing returns when you keep adding and adding.”

The company, based in nearby Columbus, Ohio, has been the title sponsor of the development tour for the past eight years.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said his Tour was economically healthy and had survived a difficult financial climate, but would be looking to find a replacement sponsor for the Nationwide Tour.

“We’re virtually 100 percent sponsored for the next couple of years, but we have some things to do,” Finchem said. “Of course, with this announcement we now need to concentrate on 2013-plus at a minimum for Nationwide Tour sponsorship. ... We don’t anticipate any issues. We just want to find a partner.”

After Morgan Stanley dropped off as a presenting sponsor for the Memorial, Nationwide and the PGA Tour stop at Muirfield Village Golf Club seemed like a natural fit. The new agreement lasts six years.

Nicklaus tried to quash the perception that Nationwide had abandoned its tour for the Memorial Tournament.

“We didn’t want to step on Nationwide and the Tour’s relationship, and I don’t think Nationwide or the Tour wanted to step on that, either. We wanted to make sure that whatever happened was done in the right way,” he said. “So we’ve spent a lot of time making sure it happened in the right way. We were absolutely delighted that Nationwide wanted to be involved here and wanted to be part and grow with us.”

Nationwide CEO Steve Rasmussen said his company will help with the transition to a new sponsor for the tour.

“Frankly, we wanted to work together with Tim and his team to make sure we get an orderly process with what happens with the Nationwide Tour, because that’s an incredibly important thing for us,” Rasmussen said. “It’s like one of your children and you want to see it doing well going forward.”

In addition to sponsoring the tour, Nationwide also sponsors a stop on the tour, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course. The company is contracted to sponsor that event for the next two years. Beyond that, it will support the tournament but will not be a title sponsor.

Lyski said the company had to make some difficult decisions.

“The primary reason (for dropping the Nationwide Tour sponsorship) is that we wanted to get to an optimum spend level in the golf property, and we don’t think we need a tour and two tour stops to be able to do that,” he said. “So we were just looking at what’s available and what made the most sense to spend down a little.”

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