Findlay's Marathon Petroleum OKs multiyear deal with Sylvania LPGA golf tourney

Tom Kelly, senior vice president of marketing for Marathon Petroleum Corp., speaks during the announcement that Marathon is the new title sponsor of the LPGA tournament in Sylvania.
Tom Kelly, senior vice president of marketing for Marathon Petroleum Corp., speaks during the announcement that Marathon is the new title sponsor of the LPGA tournament in Sylvania.

Marathon Petroleum Corp. is barely 20 months old but the corporate toddler took a giant step into the world of company sponsorships this week with its decision to become the new title sponsor of the LPGA tournament held annually in Sylvania.

Spun off in June, 2011, from its parent company, Marathon Oil Corp. of Houston, the Findlay-based oil refining and retailing company had previously lent its name to a female pro golfer, the Mid-American Conference football championship, and a baseball complex off of I-75 in its Hancock County hometown.

But when the board of trustees of Toledo Classic Inc., which runs the tournament, notified Marathon Petroleum executives last year that the title sponsorship had become available, the company leaped at the chance to associate its name — and its pocketbook — with the 28-year-old tournament.

“We had previously sponsored and will continue to sponsor [Toledo-born golfer] Stacy Lewis, and we have seen a lot of interest from the fans and the players,” said Angelia Graves, a Marathon Petroleum spokesman. “As we’ve gotten more involved in the LPGA, this made sense. It’s in our area, in our backyard,” she said.

“So we were very happy to do this. ... It looked like a great opportunity for us to get involved in and offer additional support for the LPGA,” Ms. Graves added.

The refining and gas station company has committed to a multiyear sponsorship but Ms. Graves said details of how long it will sponsor the tournament have not been disclosed. However, the Findlay firm did commit to funding for the $1.3 million purse this year, and agreed to increase it by $100,000 each year over the next two years

Corporate spending on sponsorships by North American companies totaled $18.9 billion in 2012 and is projected to reach $19.9 billion this year, according to IEG LLC, a Chicago firm that studies and tracks sponsorship activity.

Bill Chipps, a spokesman for IEG, said jumping in to sponsor a high profile golf tournament like the LPGA in Toledo, whose name had been associated with Toledo-born celebrity Jamie Farr, but will be renamed this year to the Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning & O-I, makes great sense for a new company like Marathon Petroleum.

“As a newer company that is trying to kind of build their brand, I would assume that is a big driver for them,” Mr. Chipps said. “Then you have the community relations factor. That’s a driver there,” he said.

Ms. Graves said Marathon Petroleum will be supporting children’s charities through the LPGA event, as other sponsors have in the past.

Mr. Chipps said that probably the biggest return Marathon Petroleum will get out of tournament sponsorship is corporate hospitality.

“Whoever their key customers are, their key shareholders, their distributors, their investors, they can all come together to attend this event,” Mr. Chipps said. “They could have probably purchased ads in newspapers or done other things to get their name out. But the thing with sponsorship is it brings an added ‘oomph’ to their marketing. It does help them promote and support their local positions by supporting a beloved local event.”

As a bonus, Mr. Chipps said, Marathon Petroleum will get high profile exposure through television. All four rounds of the tournament will be broadcast on the Golf Channel. “Just that exposure alone is great from their customers’ and investors’ perspectives,” he added.

Ms. Graves said the name recognition and television exposure will benefit the company and that Marathon Petroleum will continue to look for different opportunities where it can develop relationships and additional sponsorships.

With the naming rights, Marathon Petroleum chose not to include the word “Petroleum” in the tournament title, which would have distinguished the Findlay firm from its Houston-based former parent firm.

Ms. Graves said she was not involved in the negotiations, and therefore could not say for certain if the word “Petroleum” had been considered for use in the title.

“We just thought the Marathon Classic was the right name,” Ms. Graves said. “We made it very clear at the announcement that Marathon Petroleum would be sponsoring this and MPC was mentioned prominently in the press release.”

Contact Jon Chavez at:jchavez@theblade.comor 419-724-6128.