By John Lombardo, Sports Business Journal Staff Writer
Published November 14, 2016
Hospitality and the PGA Tour go together like wine and cheese, yet tournament directors continue to take an ever-evolving approach to maximizing the fan experience.
For starters, event organizers are spicing up food and beverage offerings by blending in some local flavor. This year’s Safeway Open in Napa, Calif., introduced a 27,000-square-foot food and wine pavilion complete with three restaurants, a sports bar, and beer and wine stations. In addition, the tournament held six concerts throughout the week of the event under the direction of Lagardère Sports, which this year took over management of the October tournament.
Lagardère runs two other PGA Tour events in the CareerBuilder Open and the Greenbrier Classic along with two Web.com tournaments. The company is a consultant for the PGA Tour’s Dean & DeLuca Invitational.
“Our model has grown into the entertainment festival model featuring food, wine, music and golf,” said Jeff Sanders, executive vice president of golf events for Lagardère Sports. “The concept is to bring the best of the best over the fence and onto the property at an affordable price.”
The new hospitality offerings at the Safeway Open cost $30 per ticket per day with free access to the food pavilion and the concerts. Food and beverage was separate.
“We had four times the number of people compared to last year,” Sanders said. “The events that focus on more than just golf are the most successful.”
Lagardère’s approach mirrors golf’s changing face of on-course hospitality.
“Every tournament has their version,” said John Norris, senior vice president of tournament business affairs for the PGA Tour on golf hospitality. “It is how do you attract the nontraditional fan. A lot of focus is not specifically tied to golf. It is around other entertainment. It is telling the community that, yes, we have golf, but here are all the other things.”
What sells in Napa may be different from what works in Phoenix or Charlotte.
“The trend we are seeing is customization,” Norris said. “Instead of saying, ‘Here is what we have,’ it is ‘What are you looking for?’” Norris said. “We are listening and understanding their needs.”
One of the tour’s most popular events is the Waste Management Phoenix Open featuring the tournament’s famous Par 3, 16th hole that has some 20,000 fans packing a three-tiered stadium structure looming over the fairway.
While the event is among the most successful and popular on tour, tournament organizers this year are continuing to shift the hospitality to reflect changing demand for smaller, more intimate offerings with more club-like amenities instead of the traditional giant chalets.
Over the past two years, tournament organizers have built 17 loge boxes that each accommodate 80 people and include all-inclusive food and drink for $150,000.
The tournament is also increasing the number of Bay Club skyboxes to 34 from 21 last year. The Bay Club includes 40 tickets per day for $65,000, which includes unlimited food and beverage.
“We decided that the demand for the corporate village had been shrinking,” said Andy Markham, tournament chairman of the Waste Management Open. “The trend is evolving. Consumer dollars are spread so thin that you want to increase their experiences without driving through the price point.”
The tournament has a dozen price points beginning at $3,800 and running into six figures for corporate chalets.
“Clients don’t want to be overcrowded and they want service for a reasonable price,” Markham said. “We try to be all things to all people without being too confusing.”
While high-end hospitality still resonates with well-heeled and deep-pocketed corporate clients, tour events also are catering to individual ticket buyers who seek premium experiences.
Organizers at the newly rebranded Dell Technologies Championship, a FedEx Cup playoff event, are continuing to add to reserved seating inventory within the general grandstands. It’s the third year of the increasingly popular product that costs around $175 for a reserved seat with prime greenside views. The price includes a $15 food and beverage credit.
“Certainly there is a demand,” said tournament Executive Director Rich Brady. “In years past, we’ve built public seating with first-come, first-served seating but now we have made the grandstand bigger and added comfortable seats with a row number and a seat number and fans have that for the entire day.”
The tournament also is adding to its lower-priced corporate buys with a club box that seats four. The boxes sell for $6,000 per week and cover all four rounds, including wait service, drinks and snacks.
“It’s a good product for first-time PGA Tour hospitality buyers that may not be a Fortune 500 company,” Brady said. “It appeals to a broader base and has a smaller barrier of entry.”
For new PGA Tour locations, adjusting the hospitality to fit the local market is critical to driving revenue.
The 2017 Wells Fargo Championship next year moves from Charlotte to Wilmington, N.C., to accommodate the PGA Championship that will be played at Quail Hollow, the usual site of the Wells Fargo Charlotte stop. To adapt to the smaller sports market, and draw more hospitality dollars, the tournament is creating an all-inclusive Ocean Club for $15,000 instead of the Executive Club that was sold in Charlotte for $15,900.
“We had to make market adjustments,” said Jan Ivey, director of marketing and partner relations. “Wilmington is a beach town and we have to blend into the community. Everything is more casual.”