As senior vice-president of brand strategy at Bell Canada, Jim Little helped involve the telecommunications giant in the Canadian Open, inevitably taking the company out of the deal as well. Then he moved to RBC as chief brand officer, where he inked an astounding number of golf-related deals, including with the Canadian Open, several players and the PGA of America. He left RBC last year, landing a gig in Calgary at Shaw Communications. Now he’s not only inked a new marketing deal with the Canadian Open, but Shaw is now the title sponsor of the new Champions Tour event in Calgary as well.
This one seems like a smart deal, given that Shaw has linked it to charity and that a Champions Tour event will likely strongly resonate in a sports-mad town like Calgary. It likely only costs Shaw a few million and the company could get behind a telecast of the event as well, given its position with the Global network. Right now the telecast is part of the Golf Channel schedule.
The announcement was made by a who’s who of Calgary business who have backed the event: Tournament Chairman Clay Riddell (Paramount Resources) and fellow Tournament Patrons Allan Markin (Canadian Natural Resources and Tournament Vice Chairman), Keith MacPhail (Bonavista Energy Corp), Guy Turcotte (owner of SilverTip Golf among other things) and Jim Riddell (Trilogy Energy). Sources say the group approach JR Shaw about backing the tournament.
Sources say the deal is for five years, though Shaw only announced a “multi-year” arrangement.
Mike Stevens, president of the Champions Tour, says he’s been investigating an event in Calgary for years.
“Because of the market, it expects excellence,” he says. “We took our time. This market is perfect for us, and it is the type of market we excel in.”
Stevens says the initial group of investors, called the “Calgary patrons group,” were willing to bank roll the tournament without a sponsor, but soon after the tournament was announced late last year, several companies said they were interested in the title sponsorship position.
“I sent one of my business development guys up there and he was in a lot of meetings,” Stevens says. “Our philosophies meshed with Shaw. It is about creating one of the best events on the Champions Tour.”
That also means the Calgary event is in an enviable position in terms of sponsorship and sales. Secondary sales positions — presenting sponsors and the like — have been tough for the RBC Canadian Open to find. Stevens says the Calgary tournament has several interested — companies that may have been willing to foot the bill for the title sponsorship.
One of the interesting notes is the deal basically means there will be no Canadian Open in Alberta over the term of Shaw’s deal, though Stevens said that wasn’t necessarily the case. There had been hope the Canadian Open might go out to Calgary, but truthfully that was unlikely since there is no course of sufficient length and quality to host the tournament there (quality being a secondary issue). RBC’s potential involvement (continuing the notion that RBC sponsors everything in golf in Canada, which is likely a good thing, though sources say a deal is no where near complete) could also signal that the bank has given up on trying to take the Canadian Open to Calgary in the term of its current deal that runs through 2017. For the past few years there had been discussion of building a course in Calgary to hold the tournament, as existing courses were not long enough given the altitude and the distance the ball flies there.
Glencoe had recently renovated its course and Lorne Rubenstein wrote last year that the architects involved in the renovation felt it could hold the tournament. That seems unlikely now, though Golf Canada CEO Scott Simmons indicated it isn’t outside the realm of possibility: “There will be two in Montreal next year,” he wrote by email. “I honestly don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work. I’ve used this analogy before- hockey fans and corporations will support 41 home games for the Calgary Flames, so why wouldn’t golf fans support TWO golf tournaments?”