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Lake beauty on center stage during golf championship

by Sally J. Taylor

The Isuzu Celebrity Golf Championship is important to the Tahoe business community because of the message it presents to the world. No one presented it better last weekend than Johnny Bench.

“This place is awesome,” the Baseball Hall-of-Fame catcher said as the television cameras rolled.

That’s the message tourism officials hope millions of viewers – millions of potential tourists – received as they watched golf played with Lake Tahoe’s crystal water and snow-capped peaks as a backdrop.

“You can’t measure the impact this will have down the road,” said Phil Weidinger, of Weidinger Public Relations, which helps organize the event for the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

“While it’s a great event for that week, it’s also for the future. When the cameras show how beautiful this place is, we’re doing our job.”

The main tournament received eight hours of coverage from NBC Sports during the Friday through Sunday championship plus an assortment of broadcast and print stories.

“The media coverage was definitely more than we’ve ever had for the event,” Weidinger said.

Beautiful scenics and exciting play that kept several golfers vying until the last hole for the championship title boosted the event ratings above the Ford Senior Players championship, considered one of the top four senior golf tournaments, Weidinger said.

NBC Sports officials also expressed their satisfaction with the event.

“From NBC’s perspective, we were thrilled Saturday and Sunday,” said Jon Miller, senior vice president of NBC Sports. “Sunday, we were up against the World Cup Championship between France and Brazil.

“It was an exciting finish with great ratings.”

Good viewer ratings spells good news for event sponsors.

According to a 1997 analysis of broadcast coverage, Isuzu received $4.5 million worth of on-camera exposure aside from actual commercials.

Similarly, Weidinger said previous estimates of the commercial benefit to Lake Tahoe tourism are equivalent to about $1.1 million worth of advertising dollars.

Because this year’s ratings are up, those numbers, once calculated, also should increase.

That’s real good news for NBC officials who are courting potential sponsors to replace Isuzu as the event name-sponsor.

Isuzu corporate officials opted to drop its sponsorship next year. According to Miller, new leadership in the automobile company decided to spend sponsorship dollars on extreme sports and other areas rather than golf.

“It’s obvious they don’t feel golf reaches their target audience,” Miller said.

Miller does not consider the celebrity event title a tough space to fill. Six to eight prospective corporate sponsors sent representatives to the the 1998 Celebrity Golf Championship, including one that had a presence from Wednesday through Sunday, he said.

While declining to name the companies, Miller did say that two were automobile manufacturers in competition with Isuzu, one was in financial services and the others were computer and software companies.

Whatever name is on the banner, next year’s event Celebrity Golf Championship will conclude on Sunday, the Fourth of July, much to the chagrin of tourism officials who would rather spread the visitors over two weekends.

The golf schedule is set by NBC. The event is usually scheduled for the second week of July but due to a conflict with coverage of a USGA event, NBC opted for the July Fourth weekend.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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