Honda Motors is ending the PGA Tour’s longest running unbroken sponsorship deal.
The Japanese automaker said it would not renew when its current contract expires after the 2023 Honda Classic at the end of February.
“Honda has made the difficult decision to end our 40+ year sponsorship of the Honda Classic with deep gratitude to the South Florida community that hosted our tournament, the volunteers who made it a success, the loyal fans who added so much energy to the event and the community organizations we were so honored to support,” the company said in a statement.
Founded in 1972 as Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic, the tournament has been sponsored by Honda since 1982. The tournament has been held at the PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida since 2007. The same year, Children’s Healthcare Charity became the tournament’s host organization, chaired by Barbara Nicklaus. The Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation is the primary charitable beneficiary of the tournament.
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The tournament has donated more than $50 million to national and local charities, including the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. (A record $6.45 million was raised this year.) The tournament itself will likely continue as long as a new title sponsor is found. Efforts to land a replacement for Honda are underway.
Tournament director Andrew George praised Honda for playing an important role in the tournament’s growth over its 42 years as a sponsor and said interest in sponsorship had already begun for 2024.
“We are so grateful for 42 years of title sponsorship,” said George. “You look at the impact they’ve had, over $60 million to charity and helped us grow that to over 200,000 on site each year. Collectively, as a community, we have, a huge thank you.
“We’re going to get to work solidifying a place for 2024. We’re not going to be titleless, eventless in the future. The moment will continue.”
“When Honda became the title sponsor of the Honda Classic, the company was preparing to manufacture the popular Accord in the United States for the first time. At that time, Honda aspired to become a household name and has since achieved that goal. As a result, the role of the Honda Classic in our marketing strategy has evolved and we have decided to end our sponsorship of the event,” Honda said in a statement. “Now, as our marketing mix has evolved, Honda is focusing on other tools to introduce our brand to consumers and create the kind of customer experience that will help build their owner’s lifetime loyalty.”
The Honda Classic had become the darling of the Tour and had benefited for several years from one of the best grids. In 2015, 15 of the top 25 in the World Rankings attended, making it the third-largest field among unlabeled majors, WGC, or FedEx Cup Qualifiers, behind only the Players Championship and Memorial.
The decision that took effect in 2019 to compress the main schedule into nine months and wrap up the FedEx Cup before the college football and NFL seasons hampered Honda’s ability to attract a world-class field. When the Players Championship returned in March 2019 and Tiger Woods took over as host of the tournament in Los Angeles with the Genesis Invitational’s status high, Honda was saddled with a tough date. The 2021 tournament had just five of the top 50 players and two in the top 20. (This year’s edition improved to 12 of the top 50, but four of the top eight who live in northern Palm County Beach chose not to play.)
With the changes to the schedule starting in January, the Honda will have two high events ahead of it – the WM Phoenix Open and the Genesis Invitational – and two after – Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship. This creates a difficult recruiting process – the top players are hired in the high events where the purses will be $20 million compared to the $8 million for the Honda Classic. It’s ironic that the event’s lower prize money is part of its demise, as the initial winner’s share of $52,000 in 1972 made it one of the richest stages on the Tour, more so than any of the four majors, and more than double that of the Masters, which has a top prize of $25,000.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re losing a loyal sponsor like that, especially one who is stepping down because of decisions we’ve made, not because their business is struggling or doesn’t see the value in it, but because we wedge them between these high events,” said a Tour pro. “They’re like, ‘You hurt us and now we’re gone.’ They’re probably really angry. I will be.
Tom D’Angelo of the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA Today Network, also contributed to this article.
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