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Charles Schwab ready to seize its moment in spotlight as PGA Tour makes return

Kevin Na (Credit: Getty Images)

  • Financial services company will title-sponsor first event back on men’s golf circuit
  • Huge TV ratings expected due to strong field and thirst for live sports competition
  • “Rise to the Challenge” initiative designed to engage fans and raise Covid-19 funds

Charles Schwab is looking to capitalize on its unexpected moment in the spotlight next week when the California-based multi-national financial services company will title-sponsor the first event back on the PGA Tour in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2020 Charles Schwab Challenge is scheduled to take place at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, from June 11-14. It will feature many of the world’s leading golfers, including Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, and Patrick Reed. It is widely considered the greatest field in the history of the event, which dates back to 1946.

Charles Schwab, which has been a long-standing partner of the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions, deepened its ties with the sport by securing a deal to become the entitlement sponsor of the Colonial tournament in a four-year agreement, from 2019-22.

It was a move which reinforced Charles Schwab’s commitment to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, which is home to the firm’s state-of-the-art campus in Westlake and houses 6,000 employees.

This year’s event is expected to become an unprecedented success due to its place as the first tournament back on the PGA Tour schedule amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Not only is the Charles Schwab Challenge of legitimate interest because of the strength of the field, but the wider absence of live sports is expected to result in record television ratings on the CBS broadcast network and The Golf Channel, as well as significant streaming figures and social media engagement.

The popularity of televised golf in the current climate has been repeatedly proven in recent months. In April, a rerun of Tiger Woods’ historic victory at the 2019 Masters averaged 2.16 million viewers on CBS, making it the most-watched sportscast at the time since the sports competition shutdown in mid-March.

That was followed by the major success of two live golf charity events. The McIlroy-led “TaylorMade Driving Relief” generated a Total Audience Delivery of an average 2.35 million viewers across NBC networks. This was 16-per-cent higher than the final of the Dell Match Play on NBC networks last year.

Meanwhile, the sequel of “The Match” between Woods and Phil Mickelson, attracted an incredible 5.8 million average viewers across four Turner Sports networks. The officially-titled “Capital One’s The Match: Champions for Charity,” which also featured National Football League quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, was the most-watched golf telecast in the history of cable television in the US, beating the first round of the 2010 Masters on ESPN (4.9 million viewers).

There will also be many eyes on the Charles Schwab Challenge simply to see how a major golf tournament will look and feel amid the coronavirus crisis, as other sports organizations look to return to live competition themselves in the coming weeks and months.

Justin Rose (Credit: Getty Images)

Spectators will not be allowed at Colonial despite a recent ruling that will allow limited fans at live sports in Texas. There will also be extensive health and safety regulations, including multiple levels of Covid-19 testing for players, caddies and support staff; social distancing on the course and practice ranges, and in interviews locker rooms; the offer of charter travel to and from the event; no family members on course; and no handshakes between players.

“It’s scary…it’s daunting because I want to make sure we do it right,” Charles Schwab Challenge tournament director Michael Tothe said on ESPN Radio in April. “I know the PGA Tour wants to make sure they do it right, so I hope we’re a benchmark and I hope we’re an opportunity for people to get back to normal.”

In the absence of any hospitality opportunities and on-site activation plans, Charles Schwab is looking to leverage the tournament’s new, wider reach to showcase what the company has to offer and to also help Covid-19 relief efforts.

The new “Rise to the Challenge” initiative will allow fans to enter into a raffle to win signed memorabilia and other prizes by making monetary donations to both national Covid-19 relief efforts and local Dallas-Fort Worth Birdies for Charity programs. Winners will be announced online during the tournament and PGA Tour players will support the program with special digital and social media content from Colonial throughout the week.

SportBusiness spoke to Mason Reed, Charles Schwab’s senior vice-president of corporate marketing, about the how the company is looking to leverage its title sponsorship at Colonial.

What is the general mood of everyone involved at the Charles Schwab Challenge ahead of the tournament: is it nerves, excitement, a range of emotions?

It’s a cautious excitement. We’re excited, like everybody else in the country, about the opportunity to begin the long journey to some form of normal and to be a part of one of the first major sports back. But we are very aware of the environment around us and conscious of the fact that people are going to be experiencing this a little bit differently. Obviously, all the different stakeholders within this have been working to put this on with safety in mind and ensuring that’s a possible experience considering the circumstances.

How are you approaching your role as title sponsor of the event this year, and how does it compare to 2019?

I think of our title-sponsorship as having two major platforms. One of them is the on-site experience and the other is the platform you have through the advertising units you receive as part of the tournament. Last year, we spent an inordinate amount of time, resources, and energy to activate on site and do everything from making concessions more affordable, to having some fun promotions, to having volunteer opportunities for our employees…we even gave a car away as a prize.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Obviously, all of that for the most part, outside of some signage that you will still have on site this year, will go away this year. So it will be a little bit different and we are focusing on what other levers we have in 2020. The biggest one is our advertising platform and we came up with an idea [the “Rise to the Challenge” initiative] to try to use that to do some good and support the community around the tournament.

What are the specific aims of the “Rise to the Challenge” initiative?

We obviously, like a lot of others at this moment in time, have had to pivot and be agile and come up with new plans very quickly. We looked at a pretty obvious space, which was the interception of the fans which are going to be experiencing this through digital platforms and through TV, a charity impact and then our advertising platforms…and try to figure out a way to weave it all together. The challenge was how do we do that in such a short amount of time.

It originated with the thought that golf is unique in that the memorabilia of tournaments gets handed to fans in real time…signed gloves, hats, handshakes, you name it. We tried to figure out a way in which we could recreate that in this different environment. So we reached out to the players, obviously through the PGA Tour and the tournament, and asked if they would be willing to do all those things to raise money and we would raffle them off in real time during the tournament. Not only did they say yes but they also offered to give much, much more than that…so the players started offering up things like signed flags and golf bags and all kinds of things that they are giving to us in advance of the tournament in addition to autographing all kinds of their gear and apparel at the tournament.

All of that will be raffled off during the tournament and we can do that live via Twitter and potentially through our partnerships with CBS and the PGA Tour. We think it’s hopefully for fans to feel connected to the event in a set of circumstances in which they cannot be there in person, and it’s also an opportunity to raise a little bit of money for charities who are impacted by what’s going on right now, at a national and a local level as well.

The ratings for “The Match” sequel were enormous so I’m guessing this event is going to get many more eyeballs than before, especially with such a strong field. How are you looking to leverage this moment?

We feel very lucky being first because many have speculated, likely correctly, that there will be a lot of eyeballs on this [tournament] and the strength of the field helps as well. We’re using our advertising platform and units to reach a much larger audience with the [“Rise to the Challenge”] program, which will bring fans into it and raise some money. This changes our reach and allows us to reach a much broader group of people, which hopefully will be interested in the tournament itself and also will hear what Schwab’s purpose and role is therein and hopefully do some good along the way.

Charles Schwab became the title sponsor of the Colonial event last year. Looking back, how did that event go for you and what direct benefits do you think came from it?

It went very well for us. Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area are very important for Schwab and have been for many decades. We’ve been there since the late 1970s but more recently we built a very large campus about 20 minutes north of Fort Worth in Westlake. The timing of this event and the availability of the title sponsorship were very serendipitous. We signed a deal to be the title sponsor in 2018 just in advance of the tournament that year which was held without a title sponsor.

In 2019, we kicked it off and I think going in as the title sponsor in a city like Fort Worth feels like a marriage. You get to know the members at Colonial, the tournament officials, others in the community from non-profits to local hospitals. For us, the biggest direct benefits are building relations in the community and continuing to fortify our reputation in that area as somebody committed to the metroplex. It’s opened up all sorts of opportunities for our employees to volunteer and become part of different charitable organizations.

We also benefit through it nationally with people being able to see what we’re doing on TV and in social media. We really believe that Colonial is a special tournament and that in partnership with the team at the tournament that we could add some luster to the event. We internally called it bringing back some swagger to Colonial and we did that.

We’re very happy with it and we’re excited to be the first one back and to present it to a wider audience this year and we’ll see where we are in 2021 and what the proper approach is then and beyond.

In 2015, Charles Schwab signed a wider 20-year partnership with the PGA Tour until 2034. Why did the company sign such a long deal and what are the aims and ambitions?

It was a sign of our commitment. We’ve been involved with golf and the PGA Tour for over 20 years. This was not something we did in haste – we’ve been in partnership with them for a very long time and intend to for many years to come. We’ve done that in all kinds of ways.

It’s a sign of commitment and also a sign of the benefits we’ve been getting of being involved in the sport and the Tour for many many years. We do a lot of work to measure the investment there, and we wouldn’t sign a long-term deal if we didn’t think we were getting appropriate value from that.

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