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Banks using golf as major marketing tool

One of Tiger Woods' favorite golf tournaments is the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Germany, which he has won three times since 1999.

"I look forward to getting on the autobahn and letting it go," he said.

His relationship with the German bank has really taken off. Deutsche Bank is trying to raise its brand recognition in the United States, and it believes it has the perfect combination - Woods and the PGA Tour.

Deutsche Bank last year signed a four-year deal to be the title sponsor of a $5 million tournament outside Boston that will end on Labor Day. It will include the world's No. 1 player because proceeds will go to Woods' charity.

"Partnering with the PGA Tour and the Tiger Woods Foundation ... is a powerful way to deepen client relationships and raise the profile of our brand in the U.S.," Deutsche Bank Americas CEO Seth Waugh said.

Deutsche Bank isn't alone.

Jack Nicklaus has a non-golf logo on his bag for the first time in 42 years on tour after signing a sponsorship deal with The Royal Bank of Scotland.

RBS, the fifth-largest bank in the world, also signed Charles Howell III and Luke Donald of England, two rising stars on the PGA Tour who both won the Jack Nicklaus Award given to the best college player. It plans to build a marketing campaign around Nicklaus and the majors, and is looking into other areas in golf to expand its U.S. presence.

The two banks "are trying to increase their market share in the U.S. and North America. You see that in terms of marketing investments and the acquisitions they've made," said Tom Wade, chief marketing officer for the PGA Tour. "Golf is the most targeted sport for affluent people and profitable customers.

"The demographics are there, and the interest in golf is high."

The United Bank of Switzerland was a step ahead of RBS and Deutsche Bank. It began sponsoring the UBS Warburg Cup two years ago.

The matches involve six players over 40 and six players over 50. Arnold Palmer and Gary Player will return as playing captains of their respective teams - the United States and the Rest of the World - when the UBS Cup is played at Sea Island, Ga., in December.

"All of these banks look on the United States as significant territory, but it's also to gain a global presence," said IMG president Alastair Johnston, who was involved in the deals involving RBS, Deutsche Bank and UBS.

And it's not just European banks.

Bank of America signed a four-year deal as the title sponsor of Colonial, while Wachovia is the title sponsor of a $5 million tournament in Charlotte, N.C.

Deutsche Bank figures to have an edge on both of them since Woods will be playing in its tournament at the TPC of Boston. He probably won't play at Colonial, where Annika Sorenstam will be the featured attraction, or at the Wachovia Championship.

Woods does not have an endorsement deal with Deutsche Bank, although he gets large appearance fees - about $2 million each of the last two years - to play in its European tour event. The relationship helped bring the bank to the Boston area.

"I got to know them pretty good during the pro-ams and over dinner, and it was a natural fit," Woods said. "They wanted to get more of a U.S. involvement, and they thought having a tour event was a pretty good idea."

The Royal Bank of Scotland, founded in 1727, has been a sponsor of the British Open for more than a century and recently became the official bank of the European tour.

Instead of spending more than $25 million over four years to sponsor a tournament, RBS is building its campaign around Nicklaus, along with two players from Generation Next.

"The first thing we looked at was doing a tournament, but why be a 'Me, too?'" RBS spokesman Howard Moody said. "One of the issues that evolves around a tournament is the cost. It's no accident that some tournaments don't have sponsors. It's called value."

Nicklaus is no longer as visible on the PGA Tour - the two tournaments he has played this month in Florida are twice as many as he played all of last year.

Still, he remains one of the icons in the game, particularly when it comes to majors.

Johnston said RBS plans to market its brand around the majors, which will include corporate hospitality and TV advertising.

Moody, who doesn't play golf, is intrigued with how many historic shots are associated with Nicklaus and the majors, such as the image of Nicklaus raising his putter as the birdie putt falls at No. 17 in the 1986 Masters.

He compared the RBS marketing campaign in the United States to a rope with various strands of activity.

"How many strands, we don't know. But Jack is pivotal," Moody said. "We will look at some of the magical moments Jack has been involved in and build promotions around it. When you weave them all together, this will be different. It won't be a 'Me, too.' It won't be like anything else you see."

The only common thread is that European banks are finding golf to be a good place to reach their American audience.

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