Wells Fargo is no longer the presenting sponsor of the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship at the Quail Hollow Club, creating some uncertainty about the future of a PGA event at the Charlotte golf club.
On Dec. 8, Wells Fargo announced that it was stepping away from the event after serving as the sponsor for 20 years.
A few day before the news, PENN Entertainment announced that it partnered with Quail Hollow Club. This partnership gives ESPN Bet (owned by PENN Entertainment) access to the North Carolina sports betting market.
Could this partnership eventually lead to a title sponsorship of the event, or, on the flip side, could it put ESPN Bet’s sports betting access to North Carolina in jeopardy?
Why did Wells Fargo end its sponsorship?
Technically, Wells Fargo chose not to renew its contract, which runs until 2024. As of now, it will remain the sponsor for one final tournament, which is set to conclude on May 12.
There wasn’t one specific reason for Wells Fargo’s departure as the event sponsor. According to an article in the Charlotte Business Journal, “several factors” induced this change.
Factors included questions surrounding the PGA Tour’s structure long-term and Wells Fargo leaning toward spreading its sponsorship dollars in the area across multiple events instead of just one, according to the CBJ. Additionally, the CBJ reported that Wells Fargo held “concern” surrounding the sustainability of donations from the PGA Tour.
Quail Hollow wants to keep hosting the PGA Tour
Champions for Education owns the tournament in Charlotte. Its chairman, Kendall Alley, told the CBJ that while he’s disappointed, he appreciates the investment Wells Fargo made in the tournament.
“We know that Quail Hollow is a premier location on the Tour,” he said.
According to the Charlotte Business Journal, the PGA Tour wants to find a new sponsor and continue with the event, but it’s not totally up to them. Leadership at Quail Hollow Club will have the final say.
“We believe Charlotte deserves a PGA Tour event, and if it’s at Quail Hollow, all the better,” Alley told the CBJ.
While the indication is that Alley would like to keep the event, its future is far from a certainty. The relatively short tenure of Quail Hollow Club’s hosting of a PGA event is one of the reasons that NCSharp ranked it in the bottom tier of North Carolina sports betting partnerships in terms of financial viability for the partnering sportsbook.
Could ESPN step in as sponsor?
On Dec. 5, PENN Entertainment agreed to a long-term partnership with Quail Hollow Club and the Wells Fargo Championship – something operators are required to do to get access to North Carolina’s sports betting market.
This deal means ESPN Bet is the official sports betting partner of Quail Hollow Club and will feature prominently at the Wells Fargo Championship. But could it eventually lead to a full-blown sponsorship, not just as the event’s official gambling partner?
There’s certainly a chance.
It would cost millions of dollars to sponsor this PGA Tour event outright. According to the CBJ, Wells Fargo spent close to $15 million in recent years. The CBJ writes that should another entity step into Wells Fargo’s place, “the cost for a title sponsor is likely to be $25 million-plus.”
Gambling operators, specifically one with ESPN’s wallet, could be up to that task.
ESPN wants to make a splash in the sports betting market. It’s incredibly difficult for newcomers to cement their own corner of the market. FanDuel and DraftKings have a sizeable lead over the competition. ESPN is also competing with entertainment moguls in Caesars and MGM.
But sports are ESPN’s bread and butter. What better way to make a splash in a new state than sponsor a PGA Tour event? ESPN already sponsors athletic events, such as the Champions Classic in college basketball.
Another sportsbook (or entirely different entity) could very well step in and become the title sponsor. The PGA Tour recently agreed to a partnership with FanDuel, giving the operator access to the North Carolina market.
But ESPN Bet already has a relationship with Quail Hollow Club, and its leadership will have the final say on a title sponsor.
In other words, don’t rule out ESPN Bet North Carolina from being in the conversation.
Does this put ESPN Bet’s sports betting access to North Carolina at risk?
One of the stipulations for gaining access to the North Carolina sports betting market is that sportsbooks must secure a written designation agreement with a designated pro sports entity like Quail Hollow Club.
In the case of a golf course, it must be a “facility that hosts a professional golf tournament annually.” Thus, if Quail Hollow Club loses an annual PGA event because it cannot find a sponsor, ESPN Bet would lose its access to North Carolina sports betting.
Considering that North Carolina is the largest (and perhaps only) state to launch online sports betting in the coming year, ESPN Bet will do everything in its power to ensure it has a secure foothold in the market.
Image Credit: Chuck Burton / AP Images