Backspin: The credit crisis and pro golf

Backspin: The credit crisis and pro golf

Amy Poehler finished up a routine about the Wall Street meltdown on last week’s Saturday Night Live by saying, “Basically, if your commercials air during golf tournaments, you’re done.” Funny, and seemingly true, since 26 banks, brokerage houses and insurance companies have their names attached to PGA, Champions and Nationwide tour events, and even more advertise during tournaments. The list includes AIG, Merrill Lynch, which was acquired by Bank of America (also a sponsor), and the troubled bank Wachovia, which considered a merger with the Memorial’s presenting sponsor, Morgan Stanley.

But not all is necessarily as it appears. “Competitors of those troubled giants like AIG and Merrill Lynch have every reason to pump up ad spending to steal away customers,” Media Life magazine reported last week. “And of course the new owners of these institutions will want to up spending to repair what damage they can.” To that point, Golf Channel president Page Thompson says, “At this time we have not seen any negative impact on either this year’s sales or on future advertising plans.”

The counterintuitive logic applies to naming rights too. “In the larger scheme of things, these sponsorships are often a fraction of the total ad budgets for these companies,” says Don Hinchey, director of communications for the Bonham Group, a sports marketing consultant in Greenwood Village, Colo. “In a way [they become] even more valuable, because it’s a very public sign of reassurance. It says, ‘We’re still here, still viable, and we’re involved in things that people care about.'” In fact, a spokesman for Merrill Lynch, which has its name on Greg Norman’s Merrill Lynch Shootout in December, says, “At this time, there are no plans to change the sponsorship.”

That may not mean much for your 401(k) account, and there’s still much trouble in the financial world, but for now your Sunday afternoons are safe, no matter what Amy Poehler thinks.

• Meanwhile, back at the PGA Tour’s Viking Classic, Will MacKenzie shot a 19-under 269 to reach a playoff with Marc Turnesa and Brian Gay, then bested Turnesa with a birdie on the second extra hole. In so doing MacKenzie also beat the 13 former Ryder Cuppers who had gathered at Annandale Golf Club in Madison, Miss. Jesper Parnevik (MC) was the only Euro among the bunch, so it’s hard to compare team stats, but a full complement of 12 Americans makes it possible to ponder what sort of fight they would have put up at Valhalla. David Toms led the way at 14 under and a tie for eighth. He was followed by Lee Janzen (14th) and David Duval, whose 22nd was his best finish of the year by far, with Chris Riley (32nd), Vaughn Taylor (45th) and Larry Mize (56th) also finishing in the money. Unfortunately, Mark Calcavecchia, Chris DiMarco, Fred Funk, Jim Gallagher, J.J. Henry and Jeff Maggert missed the cut, meaning that if this dozen had repped the U.S., Paul Azinger would probably not be the genius he is today.