Golf

Key PGA Tour sponsor airs frustration with state of men's pro golf

RBC chief marketing officer Mary DePaoli speaks with local press during the RBC Canadian Open media day this week.
YouTube: Golf Canada
There are a lot of stakeholders that the PGA Tour and commissioner Jay Monahan must keep happy. These days, doing so has felt a bit like a game of Whac-A-Mole. Take care of one thing and suddenly the next needs addressing.
There are the fans, which have started to speak with their eyeballs, leading to declining ratings at most tournaments. There are the players, many of whom have shared their distrust of current Tour leadership. And then there are sponsors, which provide a majority of the purse money that fund the tournaments that fans watch and players compete in. They’re incredibly important to the structures of the pro game — and not all of them are thrilled with the current state of things. 
Count RBC — the Royal Bank of Canada — as one of the Tour’s key sponsors, and one that is also dealing with some frustration as the Tour works through uncertain times. Mary DePaoli, chief marketing officer for RBC, made that much clear in a press conference at this week’s RBC Canadian Open media day. 
“I think we’re probably all feeling the same,” DePaoli said Monday at Hamilton Golf and Country Club, just south of Toronto. “We’re all experiencing this, whether it’s as a sponsor or a fan or the players. We are all watching the PGA Tour, right now, try to sort through a business model that has been under some significant strain, and has still not fully resolved itself. And that’s still TBD. So, it’s requiring a lot of patience.”
DePaoli is among the few who decide the fate of the sponsorship. Pro golf fans may recall that one year ago, that sponsorship was in question as well, but DePaoli and staff agreed to a one-year extension in August. That was treated as a victory at the time — and rightfully so — considering not all sponsorships have been re-upped with typical consistency in recent years. The extension continues for the next month as the 2024 iteration of the event is held at the end of May, but nothing is guaranteed beyond that. DePaoli was quick to acknowledge that they’ve had “a great partnership” with the PGA Tour, but also noted that partnerships go through struggles at times. 
“It’s going to be really important for us to see the Tour stabilize professional men’s golf,” she continued. “I’ve used the analogy — it’s like they’re flying the plane and building it at the same time. It’s probably not too far off. But I think if some of these outstanding questions can resolve themselves — in the short or the medium term — and we can start to put some of the static and — you know — kind of changes that a lot of people were not too pleased with behind us, hopefully they can get professional men’s golf back on track and growing in a very positive direction again.” 
DePaoli didn’t go into much detail on what those “changes” may have been, but it’s no secret that the Tour has been in a state of flux for multiple years now. They’ve been forced into making various changes to the product of the regular season, demanded player benefits from sponsors, and develop an equity program to help maintain and reward loyalty from players. All of this, of course, was brought on by the conception of LIV Golf, which happened to launch its first season during the same weekend as the 2022 RBC Canadian Open.
In a brutal twist of irony, one year later, the PGA Tour shockingly announced it was working toward a merger of commercial interests with the Saudi Public Investment Fund … during the week of the 2023 Canadian Open. Amid all that, the tournament saw one of the game’s global stars, Rory McIlroy, win in 2022, followed by one of Canada’s native sons, Nick Taylor, triumph in epic fashion in 2023. In other words, the tournament has coincidentally been a rollercoaster of golf news, golf politics, and epic finishes. All of that brings eyeballs to the tournament sponsor, but that doesn’t mean it’s been a smooth road otherwise. 
RBC spends tens of millions of dollars on tour sponsorships annually — for both the Canadian Open in the summer and the RBC Heritage event the week after the Masters — and DePaoli called that “a great run” during the press conference. She rattled off ways in which the Tour has helped RBC, and ways in which RBC has helped the Tour. You have to look at both sides, she said, stopping short of discussing RBC’s future intentions.
“With partners, sometimes they go through things,” she said. “And you’ve gotta weather it for as long as you can to see them hopefully get through whatever it is they’re going through. Now I think golf might be as this moment in time, where, unlike a lot of other professional sports, it’s going through change. It’s going through transformation. A lot of other leagues and teams have gone through a lot of that over the course of their history.
“So, we’re hoping that this rectifies itself soon. We’re hoping that they can bring the sport together in a very healthy way that, again, benefits the players, the sponsors and the fans. If the fans are happy, we’re happy. If the players are happy, we’re happy. But right now, we’re still seeing a little bit of flux there.”

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.
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