Sunday, June 24, 2018

Valspar steps up to sponsor Tampa Bay PGA tournament

The Tampa Bay area's PGA tournament, after going a year without a title sponsor, has signed on a new name that will ensure the event's future at the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club through 2017.

Valspar Corp., a global paint and coatings manufacturer based in Minneapolis, announced Friday that it will be the title sponsor of the tournament, to be called the Valspar Championship. It is scheduled for March 13-16 at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor.

As part of the deal, Valspar will become the "official paint supplier'' of the PGA and Champions tours. The PGA Tour also said that BB&T, a financial services company, will be the tournament's lower-tier presenting sponsor through 2017.

Terms of the Valspar agreement were not disclosed. Most recently, Transitions Optical, a Pinellas Park lens company, paid $7 million a year for the title sponsorship.

Scott Kirkpatrick, a sports marketer who has worked on professional golf tournaments, said he expects Valspar paid a similar amount. Sponsorship fees generally are used to buy TV time and cover operational costs, including the multimillion-dollar purse.

"These are relatively complex deals,'' said Kirkpatrick, a partner in Chicago Sports & Entertainment Partners. "I don't think they are going to fire-sale the property at the risk of hurting their overall set of existing partners.''

Tournament officials had been aggressively searching for a top corporate partner to keep the event at Innisbrook. Before the announcement, the tournament had been the only one on the 2014 PGA Tour schedule without a title sponsor.

"I think it speaks volumes that a company outside of Tampa Bay is willing to be a title sponsor,'' said Kevin Krisle, the tournament director. "Having this long-term support is exciting for us. What we've always wanted was that commitment, and now that we've got that, we can move on and do more things.''

While the tournament was at risk without a sponsor, Krisle said event officials had not started to panic. Innisbrook Resort owner Sheila Johnson, America's first black female billionaire and co-founder of the BET network, vowed this spring not to lose it, describing it as "my baby.''

The event draws about 50,000 visitors over four days, a figure that has increased for the past three years, Krisle said.

Valspar officials said the tournament was a great fit for the publicly traded company founded in 1806, which makes interior and exterior paint and coatings for equipment and construction materials. Six years ago, it started selling paint under its own label at Lowe's and, more recently, Ace Hardware stores.

"As we have expanded to more retail outlets, this is an opportunity to celebrate and showcase our brand to consumers who are closely aligned to our brand,'' Valspar spokesman Mark Goldman said.

The timing of the event, which will be televised nationwide, couldn't be better, he said. Mid March to early April marks the start of the painting season.

Valspar, which had $4 billion in sales last year, has experience partnering with golf events and in July sponsored a day at the 3M Championship in Minnesota. Innisbrook's tournament is its first title sponsorship.

The golf tournament at Innisbrook has had various title sponsors since it became a PGA event in 2000 and struggled during the recession to retain them. The PGA Tour sponsored the 2000 and 2002 tournaments (2001's scheduled event in September was cancelled because of the terrorist attacks), and Chrysler was the title sponsor from 2003 to '07. Clearwater storage firm PODS stepped in for 2008 but exercised an option to back out after one year.

Transitions Optical signed a four-year agreement to take over in 2009 but last year decided not to renew its contract. This year, the event was held without a title sponsor. EverBank, which holds the naming rights to the Jacksonville Jaguars' stadium, came on as a presenting sponsor for just one year.

The tournament has attracted some of the top names in golf, including past winners K.J. Choi, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk and Luke Donald. Kevin Streelman is the defending champ.

It became Tampa Bay's only professional golf event last year after the senior Champions Tour backed out after 25 years because of the lack of a title sponsor. Outback Steakhouse had sponsored it for many years at TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz.

Times staff writer Rodney Page contributed to this report. Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] and (813) 225-3110.

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