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    How to Stand Out When Others are Stumbling as a WM Open Sponsor

    I’m not here to dogpile on the WM Open, nor do I feel it’s worthwhile for me to do so. I feel there have been plenty of press and social posts that did a fair job of describing what I would say are disturbing developments that need to be addressed moving forward.


    I will say, however, that the WM Open has devolved beyond the intended spectacle it was meant to be. Dubbed the “People’s Open” for its sheer volume of attendance, audacious grandstands, and raucous behavior, the event stands at a crossroads of sorts for sponsors/suite holders who see this as an opportunity to enhance their brand through affiliation and hosting clients at a signature PGA event.

    Let’s Tee This Up

    Today, we’ll look at the direction this event has taken and what effect that has on the many brands who spend MILLIONS of dollars on having a presence there. But first, let’s set the table with a few facts that we all should acknowledge.


    The Open is a signature event for the PGA and the Valley of the Sun. Its economic impact is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. This event has become a unique, if not iconic, tour stop for the PGA. The Thunderbirds, who serve as the organization’s charitable arm, consists of highly respected business leaders. Much of the money that is generated by the tournament is donated to charity.


    The WM Open’s primary marketing asset is hospitality with some 500 suites available on holes 16 – 18. Food, beverage, and the spectacle of golf are available for companies that look to host key clients and prospects at this event. The course also offers dozens of food and beverage stands throughout the grounds for patrons who attend without suite privileges.


    It was estimated by Golf Week Magazine that over 1.1 million beers are consumed in a single day at the WM Open. To give you some perspective, that matches the estimated amount of beer that is sold in the Valley for an entire week.


    Not to sound too much like the old man on the lawn, let’s recognize that unruly behavior has become both more prevalent and more acceptable in our society. The WM Open has become the perfect storm of inappropriate behavior fueled by excessive alcohol consumption.


    I am 100% certain that based on this year’s backlash you’re going to see an attempt on the part of the organizers to ask for a mulligan for an event that was too cold, too wet, and way too drunk.


    And before we move on let’s recognize that this behavior has been embraced if not outwardly celebrated by the event’s promoters, media outlets, and attendees. Camera shots of over-served and costumed patrons at the event are readily panned to by both the Golf Channel and NBC Sports. Commentators embrace unruly behavior in a manner that makes it attractive and acceptable for the people to act inappropriately.


    It seems to me that fans and fan behavior get as much if not more attention than the golfers on the course. For the 2024 WM Open, this was a slippery slope, literally and figuratively.

    How Should Sponsors React?

    The WM Open has become an anomaly from a sports marketing perspective. On one hand, it’s a PGA event that should (and does) attract a PGA crowd (older, reserved, discretionary income, etc.) PGA events therefore attract brands that want to connect with said demo. The WM Open is moving away from the calm, passive tone of a typical golf event to a somewhat chaotic event with attendees who are more interested in catching a buzz and an Instagram photo than watching the game of golf.


    I think sponsors/hosts need to pivot here and start being part of the solution. I can’t think of a case where you achieve your business goals by being overserved, raucous, and sloppy. I know you want to provide the ‘experience’ of the Open to your guests but hosting your own miniature frat party is not the way to go in my opinion.


    Brands are failing to maximize their sizable investment. The event has become such a spectacle that many brands are satisfied with the ‘show up’. Meaning they shell out thousands of dollars for a hospitality asset and do little if anything to impact the person they extend their generosity to.


    To me, this is a byproduct of what this event has become. Just getting a ticket to a hosted suite asset (especially on the 16th) is as good of a show of gratitude as it gets. Brands just don’t do enough to reinforce the reason you’re there. They pay for the suite, invite people to show, pray for good weather, provide what seems like unlimited alcohol, and for the most part, get by with minimal, if not irresponsible hosting execution.


    Brands need to be reminded, if not coached perhaps not to be caught up in the spectacle. Remember that investing in a suite at this event needs to have an impact on their business. I’m not saying to over manage this but I am saying that simply buying a suite and inviting who you like the most is not a sound sports marketing business strategy.


    What you should do if you’re a sponsor or if you’re investing money into engaging in hospitality at the WM Open is take time to strategize on how your investment can have a positive impact on your client relationships. That takes planning and it takes creativity to provide a promo gift or take action that creates better recall and greater appreciation for the valuable invite.

    Ideas for Suite Holders at the WM Open

    Handing out promo items and making charitable donations doesn’t solve the issue of having too many overserved, overindulgent 40-year-olds acting like 17 year olds. That’s not our issue to solve.


    Sponsors can be part of the solution by adapting who they invite and what kind of experience they give their guests. The WM Open has been a great event for decades and dialing it back is not going to ruin it for adult men who like to dress like wizards in a public setting.


    I say this as someone who visited a half dozen different suites on two different holes. All we’re run the same way, no definable host, no brand message, and nothing to remember them by beyond the muddy smudge on my shoe from the guy who drunkenly wanted to tell everyone he played high school football 10 years ago.


    Clever promo items (branded keychain breathalyzer maybe?) or creative engagements like donations to charities (i.e. First Tee) in the attendees name enhance the experience, reinforce recall, and give your brand the ability to improve the impact you want to have on a client or prospect. They also foster engagement with the host, provide a more positive experience, and enhance the relationship with the attendee.


    The good food is nice and apparently so is the seemingly unlimited amount of alcohol you can access but all this simply reinforces the need to incorporate tools that make this event more memorable for all the right reasons while moving away from all the wrong ones.


    As always, if you’re interested in talking about how brands can maximize their sports marketing investment, you can contact me at or call my cell at 602.284.6722.

    About the author: Ed Olsen is the CEO of Line Drive Sports Marketing. He is a former adjunct professor at Arizona State University and has lots of opinions on all things sports.

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