Sources General Motors to end sponsorship of Buick Open


2006 Buick OpenDETROIT ' General Motors Co. will end its half-century run as sponsor of the Buick Open golf tournament as it tries to focus scarce marketing dollars on its cars and trucks, a person briefed on the decision said Tuesday.
GM and tour officials will make the announcement after this years open, which begins Thursday and ends Sunday, said the person, who did not want to be identified because the announcement will not be made until the tournament ends.
The decision calls into question the fate of the other PGA Tour stop sponsored by GM, the Buick Invitational held in February in San Diego.
GM spokesman Pete Ternes said the company is discussing its future role with PGA Tour officials. The companys contract for the Open and the Invitational ends in 2010, he said.
Both are under discussion and we havent signed or agreed to any changes at this point, he said Tuesday.
The troubled automaker, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 10, has been cutting back on professional sports sponsorships for the past year to conserve marketing dollars. Earlier this month the company placed longtime product development chief Bob Lutz in charge of marketing, and he has said the company will focus its advertising more on products.
GM, which has racked up more than $80 billion in losses in the past four years, is trying to spend more promoting its new vehicles, especially its cars, which it says are competitive or better than those made by its Japanese rivals.
The company is selling or phasing out its Pontiac, Saturn, Saab and Hummer brands and will concentrate on selling Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC.
The century-old automaker has been cutting back on everything from professional baseball to NASCAR in the past year. In 2008 GM ended a nine-year endorsement deal with golf superstar Tiger Woods, who will play in this weeks Buick Open in Grand Blanc Township, about 50 miles north of Detroit.
Yet Ternes said GM will continue to sponsor professional sports.
We will continue to be involved in the future, because they offer great platforms to get the word out about our new products, he said. However, as we reduce from eight brands to four, we will be looking closely at all our marketing relationships.
PGA Tour Executive Vice President Ty Votaw would not comment on GMs decision.
The automaker used to sponsor five stops on the PGA Tour, but pulled out of the Buick Challenge at Callaway Gardens, Ga., in 2002; the Buick Championship at Cromwell, Conn., near Hartford in 2006; and the Buick Classic in Harrison, N.Y. in 2004.
GM is watching every dollar it spends, and sponsoring PGA Tour events is not cheap. Golfers will compete for $5.1 million in prize money at the Buick Open, starting with Thursdays first round.
The automaker already has cut costs at the Open, ending a tradition of paying for dealers to travel to Michigan for the tournament and wining and dining select guests in lavish hospitality tents.
The end of GMs sponsorship is another ripple effect from the crisis hitting Detroits three automakers. Michigan had the nations highest unemployment rate last month at 15.2 percent, and the Flint area, where the tournament is held, reported 17.4 percent.
Loss of the Buick Open would be a big blow to the Flint area, which has seen wealth and people drained away by the decline of GM, once its largest employer.
The Buick Open is the most prestigious thing we do in this community, said Jerry Preston, president of the Flint Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. He estimated it has a $10 million to $12 million economic impact in the area.
Preston said tournament organizers havent heard from GM on its plans and said they would work to persuade the PGA to keep the event at Warwick Hills should GM bow out.
If we lose the sponsor there are several Michigan companies that are ready to step forward, he said. Were extremely grateful to Buick for being the sponsor all these years.
Both GM and Chrysler Group LLC had brief stays under bankruptcy court supervision and emerged this year free of staggering debt and burdensome contracts. The companies have received a total of $65 billion in federal aid.
Ford Motor Co. has avoided taking government aid by borrowing $23.5 billion before worldwide auto sales went into the worst slump in more than 25 years.
GolfWeek Magazine reported on its Web site last week that GM would end the PGA Tours longest partnership and a new sponsor and venue would replace Warwick Hills.
Kenny Perry, who will not play this week, won the tournament last year as it celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Vijay Singh has won a record three Buick Open titles. Woods, Perry, Julius Boros and Tony Lema have two Buick Open titles.
Woods provided the tournament with a boost last week when he committed to playing in Grand Blanc Township even though it will likely lead to him playing in three straight tournaments. He and rock legend Bob Seger highlight Wednesdays pro-am and will be followed by a throng of fans, starting with their 7 a.m. tee time.
Related Links:
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