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BC Open selling name on the Internet

In a move that is certain to attract a lot of attention and might even start a trend, the organizers of the B.C. Open have decided to sell the title sponsorship of the PGA tournament to the highest bidder -- on the Internet.

It marks the first time a professional sporting event has done so.

``We're experimenting with eBay,'' Alex Alexander, who founded the B.C. Open in 1971, said Monday, just hours after the 10-day auction began. ``We put a couple of pro-am spots for sale, and they went just like that -- bang, bang, bang -- within five days. I bet you if it's successful, you're going to hear more of it.''

Net Tour Strategies (NTS), the official marketing agent of the B.C. Open, began the auction at 12 a.m. Monday. It carries a minimum opening bid of $1.1 million per year for a two-year deal.

By late afternoon, NTS said traffic on the Web site was ``substantial'' but declined to give a figure.

``It's getting an awful lot of attention, but a million-dollar decision doesn't happen quickly,'' NTS president Kirk Pagenkopf said. ``We've been relatively pleased with the traffic on the site.''

It figures the B.C. Open, which has donated around $5 million to charity since its inception, would be at the forefront of something so radical. Since it became an official stop on the PGA Tour in 1973, it has never had a title sponsor, instead relying on several sponsors over the years, and remains the only event played on a municipal golf course.

``We've tried to get a title sponsor for years. We've been close but never made it, so we thought why not try it, we've got nothing to lose,'' Alexander said. ``We've always been innovative. If it works, great. If it doesn't, it didn't cost a dime.''

The title sponsorship includes such perks as national television coverage on The Golf Channel, a comprehensive TV, print and electronic advertising package, VIP boxes and ticket packages.

``I think it will start a trend, it's a great vehicle,'' Pagenkopf said. ``We're looking at another variety of sponsorships. Who knows how big they could get?''

If the auction is a success, Alexander said the winner would have to be accepted by the PGA Tour before a deal could be finalized.

This has been a somewhat trying year for the tournament. In March, Endicott's board of trustees fired John L. Karedes as En-Joie's manager after a citizens' advisory committee alleged that the club overspent its budget by $2.3 million.

The ongoing political rancor about En-Joie's management ignited rumors that the PGA might move the tournament.

``We're alive and well,'' Alexander said Monday. ``We're doing OK. Politics is local stuff. We like to be above that.''

After the PGA Tour's television contract is signed this fall, Tim Crosby, director of tournament business affairs for the PGA Tour in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., said the tour and Broome Charities will talk about renewing the B.C. Open's tournament agreement beyond 2002.

The B.C. Open is in the smallest market and has the smallest purse on tour. Brad Faxon took home $350,000 for his victory in last year's event, which drew a crowd between 65,000 to 70,000, according to Alexander.

The B.C. Open, named after Johnny Hart's comic strip, is scheduled this summer for July 19-22, the second straight year it will be the same week as the British Open.

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