Today Royal Bank of Canada added some big guns to its “Team RBC” package, including two-time Canadian Open champ Jim Furyk, multiple major winner Ernie Els and money machine Matt Kuchar.
What does this mean?
Consider the headline of the press release RBC sent out this morning:
RBC BUILDS MOMENTUM IN GOLF FOR 2011 BY PARTNERING WITH PGA TOUR STARS JIM FURYK, ERNIE ELS AND MATT KUCHAR
Player ambassadors to champion important charitable causes
That deck should likely read: RBC grabs top pros for Canadian Open, outings with top corporate clients. I don’t mean that facetiously — that’s the truth to the deal. When you consider it in the context of the Canadian Open, this is a bit of a coup. It basically means Els, Kuchar and Furyk will play at Shaughnessy — something that was far from likely otherwise, considering the length of the flight from the British Open and the time zone changes. Els hasn’t played the Canadian Open in more than a decade (I remember seeing him at Glen Abbey in 1999, I think), while Kuchar’s star rose since he appeared at St. George’s last summer. Furyk is a perennial star and should have already been playing the Canadian Open every year considering he’s won it twice. That said, he skipped it last year, despite the fact St. George’s would have suited him.
The deal will mean RBC will have at least four (at least currently) of the Top 15 players in the world in its field. Not bad considering the Europeans aren’t coming, nor are Woods or likely to show. It also means changing the date, which is adjacent to the British Open, is less of a consideration. A new date would cost RBC millions more each year — and there would be no guarantee Woods or Mickelson would show. RBC can’t pay appearance fees to its players — but let’s not talk around what has gone on here. The PGA Tour has long looked the other way, which is why Woods showed up at GM events when he was endorsing their products. Nothing wrong with this at all, and in fact it is proving to be a smart and effective strategy on behalf of RBC. The bank buys into big events — the Ryder Cup and PGA Championship — and now adds key players to shore up its golf marketing strategy and support the Canadian Open. Smart.
I spoke with Jim Little, chief brand and communications officer with RBC, briefly about the deal. Little says RBC now has 30 days with golf pros to use for its various business units, something the bank is finding great demand for.
“This is an expansion of the ambassador program and gives us 365-day coverage,” Little said. Little says Els is an “international presence,” while Kuchar will be connected to the bank through his hometown of Atlanta. Furyk has long been someone the bank hoped to have a link with, Little added.
As for the Canadian Open, Little said the need for a new date was becoming much less of a focus for the bank. The PGA Tour’s television deal ends after 2012, and RBC is committed to its players, the PGA deal and the Canadian Open until that point. Currently RBC gets a cut-rate deal on the Canadian Open because of its proximity to the British Open; Golf Canada, which lost money again last year, would like to see the bank cough up more cash for the tournament. The way RBC sees it, they’ve spent the money to improve the tournament — that’s part of what the ambassador program is about. Now it is time for Golf Canada to take the improved tournament and sell it to secondary sponsors. That said, Little says the bank is fully committed to the event: “If you remember on the first day we said we’d be involved with the Canadian Open, we said we’d put a lot of RBC’s marketing muscle behind it,” he says. “We’ve done that and it is in our interests to continue activating that and doing well with it.”
“The date [of the Canadian Open] has stopped being central for us,” Little says. “If they came to us with another date we’d consider it, but it isn’t our focus.”