At this tourney, you can’t name the title sponsor

March 11, 2009

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — One by one, the three men in charge of Charlotte’s PGA Tour event came to the podium Thursday and referred to the bank that’s on the hook for roughly $3 million a year only as the “title sponsor.”

They then unveiled the new logo for the new name of the tournament, the Quail Hollow Championship. No mention of any bank.

“I’m not sure that anybody’s been in this position before,” tournament director Kym Hougham said after the news conference. “The bank has been a wonderful sponsor for us, and they’re still our title sponsor. Their name is just not in it.”

In another strange twist to the financial crisis, this is now a tournament where mentioning the title sponsor is banned. Wells Fargo? Forbidden words around Quail Hollow Club. So is Wachovia, the Charlotte-based bank whose logo, colors and name used to adorn nearly everything around the club during tournament week.

How they got here is complicated.

Wells Fargo gobbled up troubled Wachovia late last year and inherited the sponsorship deal, which had been extended through 2014 just last spring. The original plan was to continue calling it the Wachovia Championship.

But Wells Fargo had second thoughts after fellow bank Northern Trust, which has received $1.6 billion in government bailout money, was criticized last month for hosting lavish parties and other events in connection with its sponsorship of a PGA Tour event in suburban Los Angeles.

Wells Fargo, which has received $25 billion in government aid, feared a similar backlash. So early last week the bank came to tournament officials with an odd request just two months before the first golfer was to tee off: We’ll still pay to be the title sponsor, but can you take the bank out of the tournament name?

“When they asked the question and we said yes – we had no idea if we could do it or not but we said yes – we went to work,” said Johnny Harris, Quail Hollow Club’s president. “We came back a day later and said we were sure we could do it, turn us loose. And they did.”

First the tournament name was changed. Less than a week later, Charlotte-based advertising agency Luquire George Andrews had came up with a new logo: a navy blue and copper stylized Q which includes a quail feather. It was unveiled Thursday with no Wells Fargo executives or employees on hand.

The hope is to have shirts and hats with the new logo available as early as next week. Except for the tickets, which were printed in November, every sign and piece of merchandise is expected to have the new logo before the first round begins April 30.

And there are no plans to change the name to include the title sponsor in future years if and when the economic climate changes.

“I can’t comment on what our sponsor will do,” Harris said, again avoiding naming the bank. “I can’t imagine we’d logo the tournament and then try to re-logo it. I don’t think we want to be that confusing, or we don’t want to send that message to our patrons. I don’t expect that.”

The tournament officials expect to take in less revenue this year because of slower ticket sales and Wells Fargo spending only the minimum required under the contract. Wells Fargo executive David Carroll said last week that “promoting this event with our brand could send mixed signals about our priorities to many of our stakeholders.”

Hence, a company paying to be a title sponsor banning the use of the company’s name around the event.

“I’m not surprised with anything that happens these days, in this environment,” said tournament chairman Mac Everett – a former Wachovia executive. “We’ve had a wonderful title sponsor, continue to have a wonderful title sponsor. And I think we’ve got a great name for a golf tournament going forward.”