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Corporate sponsors key to Viking Classic tourney

All PGA Tour events depend on corporate sponsorships for success, but this is especially true for the 2007 Viking Classic, which will tee up September 24 at Annandale Golf Course in Madison. Played in a market that is small by PGA standards, the Viking Classic requires significant financial support from business and industry located not only in the greater Jackson area but the entire state.

This support helps ensure more than just a quality offering to tournament-goers. Certainly the gallery is the beneficiary of all of the event’s offerings, which includes top-flight play from some of the PGA’s best as well as numerous extras such as the Rough House, Pro Am., demonstrations and more, all made possible through the wallets of business.

However, according to Doug Garner, the tournament’s sales and charity coordinator, the biggest winners are charities and nonprofits. Corporate backing allows the tournament to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into these organizations each year, and the goal is to grow that charitable giving to a seven-digit figure.

More than advertising

This year’s Viking Classic will boast an impressive list of business and industry as corporate backers. The most visible will be Greenwood-based Viking Range, the tournament’s title sponsor. The other large sponsors are BankPlus of Ridgeland, Entergy Mississippi of Jackson, Canadian-based CN and the Mississippi Development Authority.

But other, smaller sponsors are, collectively, of equal import. Edwin Watts Golf, Mississippi Junior Golf Association and Pepsi/Dr. Pepper are just a small sample of these supporters. The reasons these entities offer their financial backing to the Viking Classic are almost as diverse as the entities themselves.

Obviously, the event provides a unique opportunity to get in front of thousands of spectators and international media. As the state’s largest professional sports event, the Viking Classic’s advertising value is extremely attractive.

However, corporate sponsors reach for their checkbooks and give of their time and talent for “higher” ideals. Community involvement and support and the aforementioned charitable giving are just as appealing as the event’s marketing opportunities.

These reasons were certainly key when Viking Range signed on to be the event’s title sponsor. The manufacturer of commercial-style kitchen appliances for the home, this marks its first year as title sponsor. (It has committed to the title sponsorship through the year 2010.) Keeping the event in the Magnolia State and giving back played largely into that commitment.

“We are extremely pleased to sponsor such a first-class tournament in our own backyard,” says Dale Persons, Viking vice president-corporate development. “Viking has always strived to be a loyal corporate citizen of Mississippi, and when we looked at the economic impact on the state as well as the charities which benefit from the tournament, we realized what a win-win-win opportunity this was for Mississippi, the charities involved and Viking. We feel that this sponsorship is a unique way for us to promote our great state to the world.”

These corporate backers are offered a seemingly endless list of sponsorship opportunities. Hole sponsorships are the most common way business and industry get involved, and advertising in the spectator and pairings guides has also proven attractive to the business community. Seminars, demonstrations, exhibits and junior golf play are just a few of the other sponsorship/promotional opportunities the Viking Classic brings.

According to Garner, all of this support has been absolutely crucial to the success and continued growth of the tournament that has been played at Annandale since 1994. (The tournament has been on the PGA Tour schedule since 1968, and was originally played in Hattiesburg.)

“The tournament has grown every year,” Garner says. “This year, everything will be upgraded, and that is because of the continued support of corporate sponsors.”

Garner points to the Rough House as a prime example. Located on Annandale’s signature 17th hole, it provides food, sports bar offering televised college and NFL football games, stadium-style seating that allows spectators an up-close view of tournament play and other amenities. Offered for the first time last year, it returns in 2007, and there is no admission fee. All of this is possible through the Rough House’s sponsors — Jackson’s Habana Smoke Shoppe, The Rogue of Jackson, Mean Mallard of Ridgeland and Anheuser-Busch.

With Viking Range as corporate sponsor, this year’s event will offer plenty for women golf enthusiasts. On Thursday, September 27, the tournament will offer a day for the women, which will include cooking and golf demonstrations and instruction, vendors plying products and services for women as well as health screenings and education. A new offering this year, sponsors are Mississippi Baptist Health Systems Inc., Belk, Ridgeland Tourism Commission and Liz Claiborne

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com..


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