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GM Ends 50-Year Run as Sponsor of Buick Open

AP
Tuesday, 28 Jul 2009 | 11:20 AM ET

General Motors 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 year's 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.

Tiger Woods & GM
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Tiger Woods & GM

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 week's Buick Open in Grand Blanc, Mich., about 50 miles north of Detroit.

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 Thursday's 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 GM's sponsorship is another ripple effect from the crisis hitting Detroit's three automakers. Michigan had the nation's highest unemployment rate last month at 15.2 percent, and the Flint area, where the tournament is held, reported 17.4 percent.

Both GM and Chrysler 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 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, citing two sources it did not identify, reported on its Web site last week that GM would end the PGA Tour's 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 even though it will likely lead to him playing in three straight tournaments. He and rock legend Bob Seger highlight Wednesday's pro-am and will be followed by a throng of fans, starting with their 7 a.m. tee time.

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