It’s not exactly known which tournament Tiger Woods will return to, but the best guess is probably the tournament played at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., which takes place in the last week of January.
That fact might help the tournament formerly known as the Buick Invitational land the title sponsor it has been looking for since General Motors' restructuring plans earlier this year resulted in it ditching its title sponsorships of golf tournaments.
“Tournaments that Tiger plays in on a more frequent basis are obviously more valuable to sponsors,” said Tom Wilson, executive director of the tournament, which is now called The Century Club of San Diego Invitational. Wilson says that he has been in serious discussions with three companies up until this point, but he hasn’t been able to close the deal in this environment. Even though he can’t guarantee anything, hinting at this being the tournament where Tiger makes his comeback could help him close the deal. It’s likely that this tournament will get the most media exposure a non-major has ever received.
Eric Wright of sponsorship evaluation firm Joyce Julius & Associates tells CNBC that a sponsor would get in between $15 million and $20 million in equivalent advertising from this year’s event alone, thanks to at least 500 million impressions in North America from internet, print and radio coverage. Wright says that number jumps to at least 30 percent more when considering the international exposure. That’s a big bang for a company’s buck considering the tournament is less than two months away.
A Woods return to Torrey Pines is as good of a guess as any. Prior to sitting out last year from his knee surgery, Wilson said Woods played in the event for 11 straight years, winning six and only finishing out of the top five once.
“It’s clear he’s comfortable being here,” Wilson said. “So the odds are pretty good as compared to other tournaments that he could come to us.”
Wilson said his original goal was to land a four- or five-year agreement with a new sponsor, but he soon might go to Plan B, which would be a one-year deal. That might open things up to a company that traditionally hasn’t sponsored golf and wants to take a risk at hoping that Woods shows up to give their company name a boost.
If there’s one obstacle, insiders say, it could be the PGA Tour approving a one-year deal to an outside company. An executive who has negotiated naming rights deals for PGA tournaments said that the tour might not want to set a precedent with a one-year deal. That being said, it might reflect the new reality of business.
Wilson said that even he wouldn’t know if Woods was going to show up to the event too much in advance. The world’s No. 1 golfer typically lets the tournament know he’ll be there at the last moment — the Friday before the week of the tournament.
Wilson says he has until Jan. 1 to sell the sponsorship. Because of printing deadlines, he says he already has had to pull the trigger on printing some tickets and badges that say “Century Club of San Diego Invitational” on them.
If Woods did make his first appearance at Torrey Pines, Wilson said it would be a “double-edged sword.”
“It would be great for us and great for television ratings and I’d expect media requests would be off the charts,” Wilson said. “But at the same time there would definitely be challenges. We’d need to make sure we could provide Tiger with the security that he is going to need to feel comfortable here.”
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