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EDS have different view on sponsorship

Steve Schuckenbrock watched his tee shot fade slightly to the left, then he smiled. It was just practice.

The Electronic Data Systems Corp. executive was gearing up for a round with PGA pro Nick Price at the Four Seasons Country Club -- a perk that comes with working for the title sponsor of the EDS Byron Nelson Championship.

But EDS doesn't pay "slightly north of $6 million" to rub shoulders with the pros. The Plano-based information technology services firm wants an identifiable return, perhaps something close to the $600 million worth of business it associates with last year's inaugural sponsorship.

The tournament doesn't close deals, but it doesn't hurt, said Mr. Schuckenbrock, executive vice president of global sales.

"Will this venue add to that decision or other decisions? I certainly think so. Is this the only vehicle to do it? No. But we will clearly get additional business."

As title sponsor, EDS gets its name on every ticket, banner and sign for the tournament, which concludes this weekend.

But its returns come from non-traditional means, since EDS is a business-to-business firm. Most title sponsorships are snapped up by commercial banks, automakers or retailers familiar to consumers.

EDS uses the tournament to tout its services to more than 150 chief executives, chief technology officers and chief information officers, or CXO's, as they're called.

The company wined and dined them and gave them face time with the PGA's top golfers. They also got 7:30 a.m. wakeup calls and were led to conference rooms where they heard about emerging technology.

But instead of giving them a traditional sales pitch, EDS let other executives discuss the merits of technology in a roundtable Tuesday.

They heard from people like Michael Dell, who founded Austin-based computer company Dell Inc., and Jim Keyes, chief executive for Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc.

"This gives us an opportunity to spend two or three days working with clients who care about transforming their businesses through technology," Mr. Schuckenbrock said. "In this case, the consumer message is important but subtle -- a bit more abstract. But when somebody listens to Jim Keyes, it sparks five ideas to talk to us about."

Fresh off the practice putting green, EDS guest Bill Van Fassen, chief executive for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Massachusetts, said he would have enjoyed more "classroom time."

Mr. Van Fassen said CEOs need to learn what emerging technologies can help their companies.

"It's the kind of thing we don't get exposed to as CEOs," he said. "Most of us don't spend a lot of time keeping up to date on a lot of technology, and we need to."

Mark Winneker, director of marketing for Dallas-based consultant The Marketing Arm, identified three positives for sponsoring the tournament:

EDS is associated with a $5.8 million purse -- one of the highest on the PGA Tour, excluding the four majors and the World Golf Championship tournaments.

The company's name is linked to the PGA Tour's highest payout to a charity, in this case Dallas' Salesmanship Club Youth and Family Centers, which received $5.79 million last year.

The field includes five of the top seven money leaders, which is good for attendance and TV ratings: Tiger Woods, defending champion Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Mike Weir, Stuart Appleby and Ernie Els.

There are also 28 international players, a lineup that reflects the company's global reach and worldwide workforce.

"The way golf has gone global, we'd like to get more people here," said tournament chairman Stephen Barley, who's welcoming back the South African-born Mr. Els after a one-year hiatus.

"One of the recurring strategies was, because EDS is a global company and there's more influx of good foreign players, we'd like to talk to some of them and convince them to play in our event."

Sometimes one player can make the difference.

Last year's Bank of America Colonial in Fort Worth gained worldwide attention when Annika Sorenstam received a sponsor's exemption to become the first female player in 58 years to compete in the PGA Tour.

She didn't make the cut after two rounds, but Bank of America, whose tournament begins at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth on Thursday, enjoyed international attention.

The company estimated that last year's tournament registered one billion "impressions," or the number of times people saw the Bank of America brand from press coverage or other printed materials.

Bank of America placed a value of $21 million on the media blitz Ms. Sorenstam generated, said Dockery Clark, the company's sports marketing and sponsorship executive.

"The return was significant," said Ms. Clark, who declined to discuss the company's investment. "We got four years' worth of benefit into one."

This isn't EDS' first foray into sports marketing.

The company provided technical services for the 1994 and 1998 World Cup soccer tournaments.

Its head-turning ads during the 2000 and 2001 Super Bowls are credited with making its brand more recognizable.

EDS launched a series of print ads during the tournament that will run over the next eight weeks. It's also airing television ads during the coverage on cable's USA Network and on CBS.

The company pressed 300 employees into volunteer duty this weekend, and another 30 local employees are dedicated to operations, plus 50 from offices nationwide.

The endeavor will likely pay off, said Mr. Winneker of The Marketing Arm.

"The challenge for the business-to-business sponsor is that you may not be as efficient from a reach standpoint," Mr. Winneker said. "There is a small percentage of golf fans to sell to, but if they can maintain existing ones and build new ones, this thing pays for itself."

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