The bank has spent about $10 million on sponsorship of the event since it became a signature sponsor in 2004, said Bill Bertha, Wisconsin market president with the bank. In recent years, the bank has seen decreasing local and regional interest in the tournament.
“The problem was that nobody cared,” Bertha said. “This isn’t a cost reduction thing on our behalf."
For years the Milwaukee PGA Tour event, previously known as the Greater Milwaukee Open, has struggled to attract the top golfers on the PGA Tour. Tiger Woods played in the tournament in his professional debut, and has not been back since.
Another problem for the tournament is it is scheduled for the same weekend as the British Open, one of pro golf’s four majors.
“First and foremost this is a charitable event and we hoped that it would kick off meaningful amounts of money to Wisconsin-based charities," Bertha said. "And if it had worked properly it should have been the biggest fundraiser in Wisconsin every year. Second was quality of life – we thought that having a PGA stop in the state is a good thing for the golfers and sports fans. And the third thing was that we thought this would become a bigger tournament despite being opposite the British Open. And as a result it would be a good economic stimulus for the restaurants and the car rental places and the hotels.”
However, the tournament has not evolved into a regional attraction, Bertha said, and attendance has been low.
“We’re not having people flocking in here from all around the country and the Midwest to partake in the golf tournament,” he said. “But even more pathetically, we’re not seeing anybody coming in from Green Bay or Madison or Racine. And we’re seeing very few people coming from Milwaukee County. And so as a result, attendance is low and people not showing up and corporations are not using it as an entertainment venue. You’re not generating revenue so you’re not doing any of those other things.”
U.S. Bank would have continued sponsorship of the event if the bank felt there were large numbers of Milwaukeeans who enjoyed the tournament, Bertha said. Instead, the bank will find elsewhere to spend the dollars it has historically spent on the PGA stop.
“We would have done this into perpetuity if anyone had shown up,” he said. “So we’ll take those dollars and redeploy them into making the fireworks bigger or we’re going to look at other sponsorship opportunities in the state or we’re going to look at more charitable contributions. The money’s not going away. It really was for the enjoyment and the benefit of Wisconsin residents and if they’re not enjoying it and they’re not benefitting from it, why would you spend that kind of money when you could do something else that they do want to do? “
Dan Croak, tournament director with the U.S. Bank Championship, was out of the office this week and unavailable for comment.