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Published: Monday, 6/10/2013

Marathon’s sponsorship merits praise

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Marathon Petroleum is a northwest Ohio corporation. Stacy Lewis is a northwest Ohio-born pro golfer. For nearly three decades, the Jamie Farr Classic has been a northwest Ohio LPGA golf tournament.

Spot a trend here?

“It’s a marriage that makes a lot of sense,” said Judd Silverman, the founder and director of the local event.

The first media day for the first Marathon Classic was held Monday at Highland Meadows Golf Club, where the tournament will be staged July 18-21.

“With our sponsorship the past couple years of Stacy Lewis, it opened our eyes to the renewed excitement in the LPGA Tour, which is certainly on an upward trend,” said Craig Weigand, manager of advertising and credit cards, who represented Marathon on Monday. “We felt our participation could help the tournament and lend some stability.

“We’re excited to be a part of the charitable aspect of the tournament throughout northwest Ohio. In everything we do, we try to be the best we can, and being involved in the sponsorship of this event didn’t seem at all out of place.”

The former Farr Classic faced some financial challenges after wrapping up its 27th edition in 2012. To suggest that Marathon rode in on a white horse to save the day with an annual investment of about $1 million over multiple years is not an overstatement.

Among other things, Marathon’s commitment will allow the tournament to receive worldwide TV coverage during all four rounds via the LPGA-Golf Channel collaboration.

“We compete globally for investments in our community, and we’ve got a lot to sell,” said Richard Hylant, chairman of the tournament’s board of trustees, whose Toledo-based insurance brokerage firm Hylant helps sponsor one of the Classic’s early-week, pro-am events. “Toledo and northwest Ohio is a good story, and this kind of TV deal gives us an opportunity to tell it.

“There definitely has been pressure on the marketing dollars because of the economy in northwest Ohio, and with Marathon’s commitment resulting in this kind of exposure, it has reinvigorated longtime sponsors and created interest among some others. There’s a buzz, and it is all positive.”

The Marathon Classic is both a give-and-take situation for the title sponsor.

To use an old catch-phrase, Marathon is giving back to the community. Weigand said more than 100 Marathon employees, many of them from the firm’s headquarters staff in Findlay, will work as tournament volunteers. He also said there will be drawings and other opportunities for tournament-goers to win free gas cards, and nobody can possibly argue with that these days.

“Marathon’s commitment financially and through volunteerism has been fantastic,” Silverman said. “They bring a tremendous amount of credibility to the event.”

In return, Marathon hopes to benefit from local consumer goodwill and from the extensive TV time its brand will receive from a production that will feed all four rounds to 160 countries. Talk about broadening your reach.

“We felt that one of the keys to partnering with the event was that we could get it back on television,” Marathon’s Weigand said. “We do consumer-based marketing, and it makes a lot of sense for this to be a part of our advertising strategy.”

Norm Wamer mentioned on his 106.5 The Ticket talk show Monday afternoon that the Marathon Classic is the only remaining LPGA tournament based in the Midwest. That sort of surprised me.

It’s even more stunning when you consider that at the dawn of the 2000s, there were no fewer than four LPGA events in Ohio alone. There is, of course, but one survivor.

The scope of the ladies’ tour has certainly changed, with only half of its 28 events in 2013 staged in the United States.

There might have been one fewer. I don’t pretend to know just how dark the clouds were that hovered over the Farr Classic a year ago. But it was certainly troubled, if not in trouble.

Now, with a formidable title sponsor and two presenting sponsors — Owens Corning and O-I — our local event may well be on as solid a footing as any of the LPGA’s domestic events.

No small amount of credit goes to Marathon.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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