Pro Golf Holes It for Charities

1. Economic Leaderboard at The Players Championship: Over Par, or Under?

It's time for The Players Championship week, the PGA Tour's "fifth major" on its home course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and as good a time as any to see how professional golf is truly faring in this economy, with the financial sector and automotive sponsors, mainstays of the Tour, running for their lives.

For the moment, the controversy over corporations that have received billions in federal bailout funds continuing to host high-profile golf events has died down, especially after last week's "Wachovia" reverted to being the "Quail Hollow." Even Barney Frank would likely never dare to point an accusing finger at The Players, for it's this tournament that has set the standard for pro golf giving back to all of its host communities.

Said sportscaster Jim Nantz, when interviewed by the Charlotte Business Journal during last weekend's Quail Hollow Championship: "Golf is such an easy target. I wish all these politicians who invested their time to make all these scolding remarks about our sport had sat down and realized what the sport does to support charities, to support local communities…. They misrepresent where its heartbeat is. It's amazing, isn't it, that the PGA Tour gives more money to charity than the NBA, Major League Baseball, and the NFL combined?"

Players Championship organizers recognize that local communities need the sport more than ever. Since relocating to Ponte Vedra Beach in 1977, The Players has donated more than $31 million to charities throughout Northeast Florida, including a record total of $3 million in 2008. The Players' philanthropic focus includes health and human services, children's causes and education, and arts and culture. The Players also provides grants and scholarships, and one of the event's biggest recipients over the years has been The Players Championship Village, a substance- and drug-abuse rehabilitation facility for youth and young adults. Other recipients have included Community Hospice of Northeast Florida, which received a half-million dollars from the event last year.

Such major charitable initiatives also influence the amateur scene, like this week's Ganley Foundation Ironman 500 at the Heron Bay Club, former home of the Honda Classic and TPC of South Florida. The 100-hole event directs funds to depression awareness and suicide prevention, especially among youth.

The Players charitable bent has definitely helped the event draw such corporate hospitality clients as MDI Holdings, whose executives say the focus on giving back to the community is a key reason they continue to pay for hospitality venues there such as the Island Club package at $4,800 for a shared hospitality venue and 16 tickets to a $15,900 30-ticket package with Clubhouse access and a tent overlooking the 16th and 18th holes. All told, MDI will likely spend $200,000 to entertain up to 150 current and prospective clients at The Players and related social events planned during tournament week.

The Players is the PGA Tour's very own signature event, and is certainly treated that way from a broadcast perspective. The Players Championship is distributed internationally to 231 countries in 35 languages, and it reaches an estimated 589 million households. NBC (GE) provides most of the live coverage in the U.S., about 30 hours worth, assisted by the Golf Channel's 18 hours of on-air coverage and more than 90 hours of ancillary programming covering one of golf's best fields of the year.

Looking ahead to the summer and that "other" PGA event, despite the slow economy, tournament officials at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota expect to sell out tickets and corporate hospitality packages for the 2009 PGA Championship, set for Aug. 10-16. Officials report that ticket sales have picked up since The Masters; official packages for the seven days of the event include a $425 Wanamaker Club deal that includes access to an air-conditioned pavilion near the first green, and a $300 general admission grounds pass. The 2002 PGA Championship at the course drew a then-record 290,000 people for the week.

2. Moms…and Pro Athletes, Too

In honor of Mother's Day, while it's too early to tell whether Candace Parker will still soar after giving birth and returning to the WNBA L.A. Sparks, or whether Kim Clijsters will resume her old form when she returns to the WTA Tour on Aug. 10 after giving birth to daughter Jada in February 2008, here are five top athletes who have managed to successfully combine motherhood and staying at the top of their game:

5. LPGA Moms on Tour: The LPGA boasts an astonishing 30 moms still playing the Tour, with a combined 45 kids and two more on the way. A key coping mechanism for the touring moms with very young children is the LPGA Child Care Center, a traveling day care sponsored by BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages for the Moms on Tour to utilize when they are teeing it up week-in and week-out.

4. Kristine Lilly: The longtime captain of USA women's soccer has anchored the team since 1987 and continues to play strong—even after giving birth to daughter Sidney Marie last July.

3. Lindsay Davenport: Only two months after giving birth to son Jagger in June 2007, Davenport returned to the WTA Tour and earned two titles by year end. She continued her comeback on the tour until earlier this year, when she became pregnant a second time and retired, presumably, for good.

2. Lisa Leslie: The 3-time WNBA MVP, women's basketball pioneer, and 11-year leader of the Los Angeles Sparks squad was named Defensive Player of the Year and won the fourth of her four Olympic gold medals in 2008, the year after she gave birth to daughter Lauren Jolie.

1. Dara Torres: What's truly astonishing about Torres, who captured the hearts of viewers worldwide during the Beijing Olympics, is not just that she's a mom but that she's now 42. On Aug. 1, 2007, at the age of 40 (and just 15 months after giving birth to daughter Tessa Grace), she won gold in the 100-meter freestyle at the U.S. Nationals and then captured three silver medals in Beijing.

3. LPGA Player Summit and State of the LPGA Tour

Earlier this week, the LPGA staged a mandatory player summit for roughly 100 women as a run up to the May 7-10 Michelob Ultra Open, to hear firsthand about the business strategy of the LPGA in the face of the current economy and lost sponsors and tournament stops. The meeting, the LPGA's first such gathering since 2002, was held at the Kingsmill Resort & Spa in Williamsburg, Va.

On May 2, players heard from Commissioner Carolyn Bivens and women's tennis pioneer and women's sports advocate Billie Jean King. The following day, according to SportsBusiness Journal, a select group of sports industry executives and former LPGA pros conducted sessions "designed to build awareness about the tour's history and plans."

"We're doing this to engage the players," says LPGA Senior Vice-President Jane Geddes, and "help them understand the strategic direction of the LPGA, and focus on solidarity." One topic apparently not on the agenda: last year's controversial attempt to penalize players for less-than-adequate English language abilities.

In 2009, the LPGA Tour is playing five fewer events than last year, producing a schedule with major gaps in the U.S. calendar and major headaches for lower-ranked players trying to rack up enough points to qualify for tournaments. And bowing out in 2010 is the Corning Classic in Upstate New York, scheduled for May 21-24 this year—that tournament, reportedly costing Corning around $3 million to put on, joins the Fields Open, SemGroup Championship, Shoprite Classic, and two events sponsored by Ginn Co. as events without the financial wherewithal to continue.

4. Fins to the Left: Dolphins Reportedly to Announce New Naming Rights Deal on Thursday

According to the Miami Herald and other regional sources, Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross has agreed to a one-year deal with Anheuser-Busch subsidiary LandShark Lager for the naming rights to Dolphin Stadium. Instead of paying cash for the deal, Landshark, a joint project between A-B and musician Jimmy Buffett, will hold two Buffet concerts at the stadium, with the Dolphins keeping the money generated from ticket sales. (Buffett is said to be the envy of the entertainment industry for the 90% of gate and concessions he allegedly usually commands.) A Margaritaville-themed section within what is now Dolphin Stadium is also reportedly in the mix, in keeping with Ross' push to improve the game day experience for fans, Parrotheads and otherwise.

While a one-year deal is never an optimal arrangement for a facility and its owners—for starters, stadium signage alone can reach into the millions—the reported partnership with the Dolphins will give Land Shark Lager a prime marketing window leading up to the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl coming to Miami next February. Ross, according to sources with knowledge of the deal, has been lobbying the perennially-popular singer to become a minority investor for some time, and should the one-year experiment pay off for Buffett, it could give him the needed incentive to invest.

5. All of a Sudden, for Loyal Fans, Baseball's Gotten Cheaper

By now, even my 107-year-old, hard-of-hearing and -sight grandmother knows that last week the Yankees decided to slash the price of some of the $2,500 Legends Suite seats at new Yankee Stadium in half, as well as offering hundreds of freebies to placate existing premium full-season ticket holders. But will it be enough to quiet the angry pin-striped mobs and, more important, fill up all those empty blue seats so prominent in front of TV cameras?

A major variable in this equation is resale prices—some ticket experts have been quoted in the past few days as saying that the Yankees new prices are still almost double what ticket re-sellers are currently getting, a situation that doesn't bode well for new direct purchasers of Yankee real estate. (The $2,500 seats for the Yankees home stand against the Angels, for example, were selling in the $600-$700 range on StubHub, according to the New York Post.) As New York Assemblyman Richard Brodsky put it, "Only the Yankees would think a $1,200 ticket is affordable and a $2,500 ticket isn't."

As is often the case with the Yankees, their actions have implications far beyond the Bronx. In Minnesota, the Twins are again reevaluating pricing for their new Target Field, set to open next spring. Other teams are paying special attention to their most loyal fans, those season ticket holders who renew or upgrade their packages year after year. In Pittsburgh, the Pirates are offering season ticket packages for more than a third of their ballpark at roughly a 25% savings over last year, while at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., with its just-completed $250 million remodel, season-ticket holders who chose not to renew this year can keep their status for next by attending as few as a dozen 2008 games. In San Diego, the Padres are considering airlines incentive-type programs including fast-track security lines; special player events and fan concierges are also more common league-wide.

Overall, April attendance at MLB ballparks nationwide declined about 4.4% from the same period last year.

6. Top-Selling NBA Jerseys

As the NBA playoffs advance, it's highly possible that fans of such teams as the Los Angeles Lakers won't have any money left over for new team merchandise—the Lakers are charging $4,000 each for courtside seats during the second round of the playoffs, and should they go deeper, those prices increase to $4,500 for the Western Conference Finals and a thumping $5,250 each for the NBA Finals, with all seats keeping pace percentage-wise.

Lakers fans who have managed to hold on to a couple of bucks have pushed Kobe Bryant's No. 24 jersey to the top seller at the NBA Store in New York and on the league's Web site. The Lakers topped the list of the NBA's most popular team merchandise for the sixth time in seven years, while newly minted NBA MVP LeBron James reclaimed the No. 2 seat from Kevin Garnett. Here are the top five individual jersey best-sellers according to the NBA:

1. Kobe Bryant, Lakers

2. LeBron James, Cavaliers

3. Chris Paul, Hornets

4. Kevin Garnett, Celtics

5. Allen Iverson, Pistons

And one more bit of tank top trivia from the league: The number of NBA players whose jerseys are more popular in China than the Houston Rockets' Yao Ming now numbers nine.

7. And NFL Rookies

At the end of the last NFL season, rookies Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and Matt Forte all found themselves on the list of the top 25 selling player jerseys. With the 2009 NFL Draft now in the books, which five rookies have the best chance of cracking this list next season?

5. Michael Crabtree, San Francisco. Only four wide receivers finished last year in the top 25 of jersey sales, and all have been in the league for at least three seasons. However, if any rookie receiver can make the list this year, it's Crabtree. A star at Texas Tech, Crabtree could be a big playmaker for the 49ers.

4. Chris Wells, Phoenix. Now that the Edgerrin James era is over in Arizona, Wells walks into a situation where he will get a handful of carries. In college, Wells raised his national profile by playing in two National Championship games.

3. Matt Stafford, Detroit. Stafford's jersey sales got off to a strong start when the item became available on the Lions' Web site before the draft even started. Whether or not Stafford starts next season, that he was the No. 1 pick and that the Lions have a new uniform bode well for his chances to crack the top 25.

2. Knowshon Moreno, Denver. The Broncos' backfield was wiped out by injuries last season, and Moreno will be their go-to running back from day one. Moreno is a bigger household name than Forte, and could also put up similar rookie season stats.

1. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets. A marketer's dream, Sanchez's Hispanic heritage and affable personality instantly make him the new face of the Jets franchise. Considering Brett Favre was last year's top-selling NFL jersey, there's no reason that his rookie replacement shouldn't be able to crack the list.

8. Top NFL Draft Sports Agencies

Last week's headline news out of the sports agent world was that WMA and Endeavor agreed to merge. However, the largest revenue generator for agencies was the NFL Draft. With agents commanding up to 10% commission on new contracts, some firms enjoyed a big payday a week ago Saturday. These five sports agencies did the best on Day One of the draft, listed with some of their top prospects"

5. 3 players drafted, France AllPro Athlete Management

(Larry English, Vontae Davis, Kenny Britt)

4. 4 players drafted, Rosenhaus Sports

(Louis Delmas, Alphonso Smith, Darius Butler)

T2. 5 players drafted, Athletes First

(Clay Matthews, Donald Brown, Eric Wood)

T2. 5 players drafted, Octagon

(Aaron Curry, Brandon Pettigrew, Evander Hood)

1. 11 players drafted, CAA

(Matt Stafford, Jason Smith, Knowshon Moreno, Brian Orakpo)

9. BCS Hearings Commence

On Friday, the U.S. House subcommittee on commerce, trade & consumer protection began its controversial hearings on college football's Bowl Championship System. Like most issues in front of Congress these days, the BCS hearings are all about money.

Led by Representative Joe Barton of Texas and subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush of Illinois, committee members grilled BCS Coordinator John Swofford on the unequal profit distribution under the current system and the need for a true national playoff. In January, Barton had introduced the College Football Playoff Act of 2009, legislation that would "prohibit the marketing, promotion, and advertising of a post-season game as a 'national championship' game, unless it is the result of a playoff system." As Rush emphasized, "We have to ask whether or not the big, dominant conferences are engaged in uncompetitive behavior and negotiating contracts at the expense of smaller conferences and their schools…are the big guys getting together and shutting out the little guys?"

As expected, Swofford defended the current bowl system. "Every conference," he said, "has more access into the highest level of bowl games, more money and access potentially into the national championship game than ever before." A switch to a playoff system, he maintained, would be difficult due to contractual obligations with existing bowls and in fact devalue many of the smaller bowl games, even ones with long-standing traditions.

As noted by ESPN, in recognition of the "seriousness of the threats coming from Capitol Hill," the BCS has hired a handful of lobbyists, including former U.S. Representative J.C. Watts, a standout football player at Oklahoma who became a lobbyist after leaving Congress in 2003. Besides working the hearing, ESPN claims the lobbyists are also "working on senators from both parties in anticipation of more pressure from the…Subcommittee."

10. Gladiator School

If you're planning a trip to Italy and want to let loose your inner Spartacus, it will only cost you $760. According to The Wall Street Journal, that's the cost of gladiator training at Rome's Cavalieri hotel. That price includes "tunic, Roman sandals, replica weapons, and [an] Italian lesson that teaches 'Ave, Caesare! Morituri te salutant.'"

(If you've forgotten your grammar school Latin, that's "Hail Caesar! Those who are about to die salute you!")

Wine, chariot, and loyal steed, apparently, not included.