Cadillac pushes back into golf sponsorships By Doron Levin, contributor

FORTUNE -- When the azaleas are blooming in Augusta, Georgia it's a sure sign that The Masters is nigh. Mercedes-Benz, as the elite golf tournament's automotive sponsor, sees no surer proof that it sits atop the world of luxury car brands, a perch once occupied by Cadillac.

Cadillac, which relinquished The Masters in 2007 after 40 years of sponsorship, hasn't thrown in the towel on regaining top-tier brand status -- or on golf. This year marks a return to prominence in the sport for Cadillac as a major sponsor of the PGA Tour. General Motors (GM), Cadillac's parent, reorganized under bankruptcy protection in 2008.

"Our tagline is 'the best or nothing," said Stephen Cannon, a Mercedes vice president for marketing. "We wanted to shift to marketing properties that were the best or among the best. The Masters is meticulous about how they manage every blade of grass, about their history. And they've built a worldwide focus, it's now broadcast in 185 countries."

The first round of the four-round event begins April 7. In addition to Mercedes, ExxonMobil (XOM, Fortune 500), IBM (IBM, Fortune 500), AT&T (T, Fortune 500) and Rolex sponsor The Masters.

Prior to the Masters, Mercedes's most important golf sponsorship was the early January tournament held at the Kapalua resort on Maui, Hawaii. The event was meant to capitalize on the glamour of Hawaii and the star power of the competitors, each of which had to have won at least one professional tournament the previous year to qualify.

More often than not, however, top golfers Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson had chosen to skip the Mercedes event. TV ratings on the Golf Channel were tiny and not more than 10,000 or 15,000 spectators showed up, Cannon said.

"It was largely a hospitality event," he said, for entertaining Mercedes dealers and other clients, lacking the marketing clout of bigger international sporting events such as Formula One car racing.

The PGA Tour says that viewers of its golf tournaments are 76% more likely than average to have household income of more than $250,000 and 50% more likely that average to have purchased a luxury car.

By switching focus to elite international golf events only, Mercedes created an opening for Hyundai this year to take over title sponsorship of the Kapalua tournament, now known as the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Hyundai only recently has set its sites on attracting more affluent buyers, with advertising at the Academy Awards broadcast and the Super Bowl. The South Korean automaker hasn't yet created a luxury franchise; but it does have a luxury sedan. But Hyundai's Equus is positioned as a low-price competitor to those made by Lexus, Cadillac, BMW and, yes, Mercedes.

GM's Buick brand had sponsored up to four PGA Tournaments annually through the late 1990s. Buick no longer sponsors golf, preferring to concentrate on team sports such as college basketball. Cadillac, by contrast, tries to highlight individual achievements.

"That's why golf is good for Cadillac," said Don Butler, vice president of Cadillac marketing, "It's about individual excellence. We're also sponsoring tennis and skiing on a regional basis."

GM, which earlier this year signed a contract with NBC for television to sponsor the 2012 Olympics in London, should be spending less on marketing than it did prior to bankruptcy simply by virtue of trimming the number of its brands it must promote to four from eight.

Butler said the opportunity to sponsor the PGA Tour's World Golf Championship event at Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami "is a way to let customers experience our products." Cadillac models were on display around the course.

While returning to the Masters someday as sponsor would be sweet turnabout for GM and Cadillac, its executives daydream are more vitally hoping for the day that Cadillac sedans are regarded as proxies for Mercedes, Lexus and other luxury marques.

What none of them should forget is that Hyundai executives are dreamers, too. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Find Your Next Car
Company Price Change % Change
Facebook Inc 60.36 1.43 2.42%
Micron Technology In... 24.92 1.01 4.22%
Bank of America Corp... 16.15 0.00 0.00%
Pfizer Inc 30.71 0.46 1.52%
Newmont Mining Corp 25.09 1.55 6.58%
Data as of 10:01am ET
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,444.11 35.57 0.22%
Nasdaq 4,103.33 7.81 0.19%
S&P 500 1,868.74 3.89 0.21%
Treasuries 2.70 -0.02 -0.62%
Data as of 10:16am ET


On eve of hearing UAW says it will no longer challenge loss in organizing election at Volkswagen's only U.S. plant. More

Obamacare sign ups hit 8 million, though final enrollment remains to be seen. More

Schwinn, Trek and Cannondale are all iconic American bicycle brands. But none of them are made in the United States. More

Getting people to donate money is a big business, and some universities, hospitals and other nonprofits are rewarding their top fundraisers with as much as $1 million to bring in the big bucks. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.