Notice anything missing? Right: Justin Timberlake! For the past four years, since 2008, the tournament was called the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Timberlake was called the tournament host, he put on a charity concert during the week, played in the pro-am, made appearances during the broadcast, was a public and visible figure promoting the tournament. Now, no JT.
OK, OK, you got me: This is actually old news. Way back in October it was announced that Timberlake wasn't returning. His contract expired - he signed a 4-year deal to put his name on the event, that deal expired after the 2012 tournament, and that deal wasn't renewed. I apparently had my head buried in a sand trap during October and missed this.
But now that I know, the question is, why? Why dump Timberlake (assuming it was the tournament's choice, rather than the celeb's choice)? No question he brought a lot of attention to a tournament that otherwise probably would have gotten much less. That had to be good for the Shriners folks. No doubt his concert raised money for Shriners. What gives?
Back in October, the Las Vegas newspaper ran an article with some revealing comments from the tournament director.
This one, for example:
"... it seemed that when the TV cameras weren't on, (Timberlake) disappeared."
Ouch! That probably explains everything: The Shriners people were ponying up a lot of sponsorship dollars to get Timberlake's involvement. And while JT was a very visible presence, when he wasn't visible - e.g., when the cameras were off - he was invisible. Gotcha. The Shriners folks wanted more from Timberlake than he was willing to give.
Here's the fuller text from the article:
While Timberlake did fulfill his obligations to the tournament and helped raise several million dollars through a Saturday concert his first four years, the fact is the pop star and original member of N'Sync wasn't able to generate greater interest in the tournament, and his star power wasn't enough to lure bigger-name players to the event on a consistent basis.
"We're a world-class organization," Frevel said. "At the time we got involved with golf, we were told by the Tour we needed a big name, and that's how our relationship with Justin came about.
"Justin's a wonderful person. But we tried everything we could to get him more involved with our kids and the hospitals. But it seemed that when the TV cameras weren't on, he disappeared."
Sperling said despite the perception that Timberlake didn't do more to help grow the tournament, he believes Timberlake's presence did stabilize the event and allow it to take the next logical step.
"The future of pro golf here in Las Vegas wasn't very secure when Justin and the Shriners came in five years ago," Sperling said. "Justin added a level of cache and star power in a city that understands the value of that."