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General Motors Execs, Dealers Won't Be In Final Four Suites

Thursday, 26 Feb 2009 | 1:38 PM ET
GM logo, General Motors logo
GM logo, General Motors logo

When the NCAA men's basketball tournament comes to Detroit for the Final Four in early April, don't expect to see General Motors executives, dealers or clients in the suites that they've purchased.

CNBC has learned that despite the fact that Pontiac is the official car of the NCAA and the final games are being played in the city of GM's headquarters, the car company is not inviting anyone to watch the action from the luxury suites at The Palace at Auburn Hills.

General Motors is in the process of trying to sell the suites, according to Larry Peck, promotions manager for the Buick and Pontiac brands.

"We will have a product presence around town that won't be much smaller, but the hotel rooms won't be filled with our visiting guests or dealers and no suites are going to be used in this venue," Peck said. "We will use the sports properties that we have contracts with to advertise and promote the products, but there are no hospitality or motivational type programs associated with those properties."

Viewers will however see plenty of Pontiac ads on CBS' coverage of March Madness since the television advertising portion of the spending is already contractually binding.

On the day where General Motors reported a $9.6 billion loss for the fourth quarter and has put in for more government bailout money, there's a high sensitivity to marketing budgets.

Peck said that the GM's Buick brand is contractually obligated to sponsor two PGA Tour tournaments, the Buick Invitational and the Buick Open, through 2010 and there are still value in those title sponsorships.

But that doesn't mean there haven't been cutbacks. Buick, which is the official car of the PGA Tour, also bought official sponsorship status with 24 tournaments last year. This year, Buick is the official car sponsor of just six PGA Tour tournaments, including the two that they title sponsor.

Buick massively cut back on its hospitality for the Buick Invitational earlier this month. Even still, the small hospitality tent that was overlooking the 18th green three weeks ago won't be around for the Buick Open, which takes place from July 30-Aug. 2.

"At the Invitational, we served dry snacks," Peck said. "We're not even doing that anymore."

Late last year, Buick was able to get out of two sponsorship deals early, one with Tiger Woods —who had been endorsing Buick for nine years. The other was with Woods' swing coach Hank Haney.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: The Final Four is at Ford Field, not the Palace at Auburn Hills.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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