N’wide exit leaves Tour another hole to fill

Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey during the Nationwide Tour's Chiquita Classic. Gainey has emerged as a fan favorite.

Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey during the Nationwide Tour's Chiquita Classic. Gainey has emerged as a fan favorite.

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Friday’s announcement that Nationwide Insurance will become the presenting sponsor of the Memorial brings stability to one of the PGA Tour’s most prestigious stops, while raising questions about the future of the Tour’s developmental circuit.

Nationwide is under contract to be the Memorial’s presenting sponsor for six years, starting in 2011. The Columbus, Ohio-based insurance company will not renew its title sponsorship of the Nationwide Tour when the contract expires after the 2012 season.

Nationwide’s exit means the PGA Tour has to plug another sponsorship hole – in this case, a key revenue source for the Tour’s secondary circuit. But it has ample time to find a replacement, and Nationwide’s announcement actually gives the Tour a head start in the search. Renewal talks for the umbrella sponsorship weren’t even scheduled to begin until 2011.

“The work to find a new umbrella sponsor has already begun,” Nationwide Tour president Bill Calfee said in a statement. He was out of the country Friday and unavailable for comment. “We are confident the ever-growing and strong reputation our Tour continues to experience will attract a number of potential umbrella sponsors.”

The tour’s umbrella sponsorship is an attractive marketing opportunity, especially for a company attempting to build a national reputation through multiple local platforms. The Nationwide Tour visits many secondary markets (such as Omaha, Neb., and Springfield, Mo.) where its tournaments are among the largest sporting events of the year.

“This is the sort of opportunity that is particularly attractive to companies that are seeking to broaden exposure nationally and even internationally, while at the same time touch local communities throughout the country,” Jay Monahan, PGA Tour senior vice president of business development, told Golfweek in an email.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the Tour “did not anticipate any issues” finding a replacement for Nationwide.

Nationwide also will not renew its title sponsorship of the Nationwide Tour’s flagship event, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational. That contract expires after the 2012 event. Nationwide said it will continue to support the event as long as it is in Columbus, just not in the title role.

Kip McBride, the tournament’s director, told Golfweek the event will seek a presenting sponsor with the goal of maintaining Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the title. The search will start with local companies that would be more likely to keep the hospital in the tournament title.

Nationwide has been the title sponsor of the PGA Tour’s secondary circuit since 2003, making it the longest-running umbrella sponsor in the tour’s history. The Nationwide Tour – previously sponsored by Hogan, Nike and Buy.com – started in 1990.

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