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On the Wegmans LPGA, Bills ticket costs and Boss Jeter

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Rochester Business Journal
June 6, 2014

Last week’s news that the women’s professional golf tour will be zooming out of town like a Titlist off a tee after this summer’s Wegmans LPGA Championship did not come as a shock to anyone who had been paying attention to the rumblings of recent years. But that doesn’t make it any less painful to accept.

For 38 consecutive years, the LPGA has been a part of our sporting springs and summers. The tournament was a galvanizing event for Rochester—attracting not only hard-core golf fans but people who didn’t know a birdie from a bogey. The galleries here dwarfed those at other tour stops, and the golfers marveled at the fans’ knowledge and enthusiasm.

An annual army of volunteers made the tournament run smoothly. Wegmans’ sponsorship enabled it not only to survive but to thrive. Local media coverage was unparalleled. Millions of dollars were raised for local charities. The golfers were overwhelmed by the hospitality.

But all that wasn’t enough to prevent the LPGA from accepting an offer it couldn’t refuse. The opportunities were irresistible to work with the men’s PGA and global sponsor KPMG, to be televised by NBC, to see the tournament’s purse jump $1.1 million to $3.5 million, to play on some of the country’s most revered courses, to be near the media capital of the world. So next year the renamed KPMG Women’s PGA Championship will be in Westchester County. And for the first time since 1977, Rochester will be without a tour stop.

LPGA commissioner Michael Whan appears to be a very sharp guy. In his four years at the helm, he’s helped revive a tour that was in the deep rough. Television ratings are up. Tournaments have been added after a decade of decline. Purses are on the rise. Whan says he’s committed to returning to Rochester. His sentiments are echoed by former players, such as Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez, as well as current stars like Paula Creamer and Stacy Lewis. He’s talked about another tour stop here, or a major, or a women’s senior tournament. I’m a tad skeptical. We shall see.

Wegmans, the corporate hero that saved the LPGA in Rochester and kept it going these past 17 years, says it has no interest in being a sponsor in the future. That’s a huge blow, because I don’t know of too many other local businesses with the desire to assume that expensive role. Sadly, our days as a heavy hitter with locally based Fortune 500 companies are, like Kodak film, behind us. Perhaps Rochester would be in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship rotation if Oak Hill Country Club steps up to the tee. The thinking is the PGA could dangle the carrot of a future men’s championship if the venerable club were first willing to host the women’s major.

Still, whether it’s a regular tour stop (highly unlikely), a one-time major (outside chance) or a senior event (quite possible), it just won’t be the same not having an annual presence here. The only thing certain is that Rochester will get one more shot at hosting a major women’s golf tournament August 11-17 at Monroe Golf Club. I believe the galleries will be bigger and more enthusiastic than ever. I believe the folks at Wegmans and the volunteers will put on a show the golfers won’t soon forget. The farewell will be bittersweet, to be sure, part celebration and part wake.

Bills fans, open your wallets
Erie County Executive Mark Polancarz recently said the next Buffalo Bills owner may seek to use “personal seat licenses” to fund a new stadium or a retrofit of Ralph Wilson Stadium. This has been done in other cities to help defray costs that government and team owners assume during massive construction or reconstruction projects.

Essentially, the fan must pay a onetime PSL to secure a seat for an extended period of time. For example, if you want a seat 10 rows up at the 50-yard line, you might have to pay $5,000 or $10,000. On top of that, you would still have to shell out several hundred dollars for your season ticket. In larger, more affluent markets such as Santa Clara, Calif., where the new home of the San Francisco 49ers is being built, deep-pocketed fans are paying as much as $80,000 for PSLs for premium seats.

Never in a million years do I see that kind of money being paid here. Given the state of the Western New York economy and the Bills’ challenges just to sell season tickets, I wonder how much revenue could be generated through PSLs. But even if the new owner opts against them, Bills fans can expect to pay considerably more for tickets with either a new stadium or a retro-fitted Ralph.

Derek Jeter’s post-career plans
Speaking of new owners, Derek Jeter said he would love to become one after he retires as New York Yankees shortstop following this season. Jeter, though, acknowledges he doesn’t have the financial wherewithal and would have to be the front man for a more well-heeled money group. He said he picked up a few pointers from late Yankees boss George Steinbrenner.

Jeter said he wasn’t interested in becoming a manager. “I want no part of that,’’ he joked to reporters. “Then, I got to answer your questions every day.”

Award-winning columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak was one of the co-authors of “The Hall: A Celebration of Baseball Greats.”

6/5/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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