AKRON—The Bridgestone brand will take over the title sponsorship of the World Golf Championships tournament at Firestone Country Club in Akron beginning next year as part of a five-year deal that runs through 2010.
The Bridgestone Invitational will replace the NEC Invitational as part of the World Golf Championships, which are sanctioned and organized by the International Federation of PGA Tours. The agreement was announced Aug. 22 during the final round of the NEC event in Akron.
Bridgestone officials look at the sponsorship as a global marketing opportunity that can benefit the firm´s Bridgestone- and Firestone-brand tires, along with Bridgestone Golf´s line of golf balls and clubs.
"By sponsoring this event, it´s a great way to showcase our company," said Mark Emkes, chairman and CEO of Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. and Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire L.L.C. "It´s the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone (Country Club). It´s a perfect fit, giving both of our brands exposure."
The agreement calls for the event to stay in Akron—where the company employs about 1,000—throughout the five-year sponsorship period. Bridgestone also becomes one of four "umbrella sponsors" of the four events that make up the World Golf Championships.
"We look forward to a long-term relationship with the Bridgestone family of companies and a bright future for this championship," said PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.
While the Bridgestone Invitational will stay in Akron, the company will use a cross-marketing approach, both across the globe and across product lines.
"It´s a very global approach," Emkes said. "We have in the past sort of kept the golf and tires separate, and we realize now that there´s good opportunities for synergy, to bring the two together. Things like this create a lot of passion within the organization and with customers, whether they´re golf customers or tire dealers. A lot of tire dealers play golf."
It´s also expected to boost Bridgestone´s golf business in the U.S.
Bridgestone claims the No. 1 spot in the Japanese golf market and has sold its Precept-brand ball as a midlevel offering in the U.S. since 1985. Earlier this year, however, it introduced its Bridgestone-brand ball here to compete in the premium end of the golf ball market. It also sells a full line of Bridgestone-brand clubs, including drivers, fairway woods and irons.
The company has signed four "name" players from the PGA Tour as endorsers: Stuart Appleby, Fred Couples, Shigeki Maruyama and Nick Price.
"That´s our intent, to become a major factor in the U.S. golf market and continuing the tradition we have in Japan," said Dan Murphy, Bridgestone Golf Inc. senior director of marketing.
He said the premium end has been one of the healthier parts of the golf ball market over the past few years.
"It´s a hugely competitive market, no doubt about it," Murphy said. "But when people ask that question, we always say there´s always room for a better product—even in a competitive market."
Most of the Bridgestone-brand balls are made in Japan, but Bridgestone Golf does produce Precept balls at its facility in Covington, Ga., according to Murphy.