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Fez power: Shriners believe golf tournament drives brand

If you’re wondering why older gentlemen wearing red fezzes are scattered around the PGA tournament unfolding this week at the TPC Summerlin course, it’s because the tournament has a unique title sponsor.

The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open is the only PGA event that involves a nonprofit organization serving as both official title sponsor and host.

The Tampa, Fla.-based Shriners paid a handsome fee — about $4.5 million annually under a new five-year deal signed last year — for the right to have its name in the title of the PGA event. The Shriners own 22 medical facilities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico that provide health care for children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate, regardless of the families’ ability to pay.

The tournament at the par-72, 7,243-yard course began Thursday and concludes Sunday. The tourney has grown in relevance because golfers who made the cut will earn points in the race to win the FedExCup, which is why the Shriners Open is considered an early 2014 season event even though it’s held in October 2013. The tourney winner also receives automatic admission into the 2014 Masters and the player prize money increased to $6 million from $5 million.

With the tournament beefed up with FedEx Cup points on the line and more prize money, the Shriners believe more high-profile players will come to the PGA event. In turn, they theorize big-name golfers will attract more eyeballs to the Shriners brand. The organization, born in New York City in 1872, has 296,000 members as of the end of 2012 and a $7 billion endowment, said Gary Dunwoody, Shriners board member and golf committee chairman.

The Shriners’ revenue for 2012 was $636.7 million, according to its 990 tax document. That includes $202.4 million from contributions, $190.8 million from investments, and $130.3 million from gains on investments.

The Review-Journal caught up with Dunwoody for five questions on the anatomy of a title sponsorship deal.

Question: What is the value of this golf tournament title sponsorship to the Shriners?

Answer: That was analyzed, debated and discussed when the five year-year contract was up last year. Was it worth what we spent? Was Vegas the right location? The only negative was that we needed more attendance. There was some discussion on the board that Vegas was too competitive for the spectator dollar. But the key is that Vegas gets the best events. The vast majority of the board liked the cooperation of the community and the UNLV former players. Las Vegas is truly a destination. We wanted the public awareness and the name brand recognition for both the hospital and the fraternity of Shriners international.

Question: How has the Shriners used the title sponsorship?

Answer: We have the top line in the signage. Everybody who attends the golf tournament who didn’t know us knows us now. We also bring patients to interact with spectators, celebrities and players.

Question: What is the return on investment?

Answer: When talking about awareness, how do you measure advertising? Have people heard about us? We got some donations because of this tournament. But sometimes it’s hard to track because some people who donate don’t say where they heard about us. Obviously, we try to track it and we feel comfortable with continuing our commitment.

Question: Is this title sponsorship the biggest for the Shriners?

Answer: We do have the East-West Shrine college all-star game. We’ve had it for 86 years. We’re the oldest college all-star game. The older bowl game is the Rose Bowl. We feel both (the title sponsorship and the college all-star game) have a place in our charitable system.

Question: What’s the biggest benefit that the Shriners derive from the title sponsorship?

Answer: It’s awareness. We have a great network of hospitals. If people don’t know us, they can’t try us. We need patients to be aware of our services. We need the patients. We have the bed space and capacity to accommodate many more patients. So the three benefits are monetary fund-raising, the solicitation of patients and information on the fraternity and what the Shriners are all about.

Alan Snel can be contacted at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter.

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