Storms Can’t Put a Damper on Travelers’ PGA Sponsorship

'Umbrella' coverage for insurance giant’s golf tourney

While play at the 2012 Travelers Championship was suspended this afternoon—a belt of torrential rain and thunderstorms lashed the northeast throughout the day, making golf untenable—the tournament’s title sponsor sees nothing but blue skies in its forecast.

Now its sixth year as the steward of what was once known as the Greater Hartford Open, Travelers has positioned the event as a means to generate money for various charity organizations. Each year, the tourney generates around $1 million for the likes of The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the residential summer camp founded by the late Paul Newman for children coping with cancer and other serious illnesses.

The camp is located in Ashford, Conn., some 45 miles up the road from Cromwell, Conn., home to the TPC River Highlands club and the Travelers Championship.

The title sponsorship makes Travelers one of a handful of companies that host a PGA Tour event in their own back yard.

“When we took this tournament over in 2007, we did a lot of research and found that golf is a very important game to those in the insurance business. Almost everyone plays,” says Andy Bessette, the evp and chief administrative officer at Travelers. “And having our own hometown tournament allows us to make a difference right here in the [Hartford] community.”

Golf also informs some of Travelers’ most recent creative. One 30-second spot features the insurance company’s loveably shaggy mascot, Chopper, offering some advice to a duffer hitting balls from a practice tee. Another new ad, this one sixty seconds long, shows Chopper retrieving an errant shot from a water hazard and improving a shabby golfer’s lie by placing his ball safely on the green.

The Travelers’ iconic red umbrella, which can be seen dangling from Chopper’s collar in the ads, also makes an appearance on the TPC River Highlands course. A stylized pontoon float in the shape of the logo rests in a pond located between the 15th and 16th holes and serves as the focal point of a special closest-to-the-pin competition.

On Thursday, Arizona pro Ricky Barnes beat out 22 other players in the “15 1/2 Challenge,” earning $10,000 for his charitable foundation. As in years past, Travelers donated the award.

Early play from the final two rounds of the tourney will air this Saturday and Sunday on NBC Sports Group’s Golf Channel (1-2:30 p.m. EDT). CBS’s afternoon coverage will air from 3-6 p.m. both days.

While last year’s ratings were shaky—CBS’s final round coverage of the Travelers Championship drew 1.95 million viewers on June 25, 2011, down 17 percent from the previous year (2.36 million)—the field is strong enough to draw a significant TV audience. Newly minted U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson is playing in a group that includes 2012 Masters winner Bubba Watson and 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley. (Watson won the Travelers in 2010, marking his first-ever PGA Tour victory.)

All three golfers have advanced to the weekend rounds.

Per SNL Kagan data, Travelers is ninth biggest advertiser in the insurance game, investing $166.5 million in media last year. That marked a 30 percent increase from 2010, when the company’s ad spend added up to $129.2 million.

Along with the charitable outlay, the tourney generates some $135 million for greater Hartford. “It’s good for the brand, it’s good for our community,” Bessette says. “The gate receipts, concessions, merchandise, 100 percent of it goes to charity. If someone buys a bottle of water for $3, that money goes to charity.”