Archive

Financing a dream

By SCOTT HAMILTON
Senior Writer

Tom DeCaprio will be the first to tell you there’s nothing small-time about what he’s doing.

Though he’s a 38-year-old former college golfer who’s grinding on mini-tours, chasing a dream of playing on the game’s biggest stage, DeCaprio is taking a big-time approach. That means going about his business, on and off the course, in a manner befitting major tour players. Just consider the treatment he gives one of his sponsors.

“After I signed the deal with Geico, I switched my insurance to them and really did save money!” says DeCaprio, quoting the insurance company’s slogan.

Yes, DeCaprio knows how to work it.

Despite playing locally in the central Florida area and on the Tar Heel Tour, well away from network television cameras, DeCaprio has assembled a respectable portfolio of corporate sponsors. The deals are tiny compared to those signed by PGA Tour players, but they are nonetheless vital for DeCaprio to continue his chase of a professional golf career.

In a sense what DeCaprio is doing is no different than an entrepreneur seeking startup capital. Beginning a pro golf career requires seed money to pay entry fees and cover expenses. And like others before him, DeCaprio has come up with creative financing. Some have sold “shares” of themselves to raise the necessary cash, with investors getting a return based upon the players’ winnings.

DeCaprio’s sponsorship solution evolved from earlier fiscal challenges. His pursuits on various small tours and regional opens from 1992 to 1999 were paid for by family and friends, often putting DeCaprio in the uncomfortable position of either asking for money or dealing with extra pressure to perform. He eventually gave up golf for a place in the business world.

He accepted a job as senior corporate marketing sales executive for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning from 1999 to 2003 before moving on to serve as sales director for the next four years at the PGA Tour’s Tampa, Fla., event, The PODS Championship (and formerly The Chrysler Championship). DeCaprio sat in on his fair share of sponsorship negotiations, including the renaming of the Lightning’s arena and the brokering of the Tampa tournament’s title deal with moving and storage company PODS (which ends after this year).

The marketing assignments suited him, but DeCaprio couldn’t shelve thoughts of a comeback attempt and began envisioning a trip to Q-School. But this time he had a different plan for subsidizing his efforts.

Using the business lessons he learned, DeCaprio began detailing every expense down to the penny and courted sponsors by submitting a formal business plan. He figures it will cost $65,000 to $85,000 to tee it up this year, chump change in the big leagues, but more than a year’s salary for many Americans.

Aside from a five-figure endorsement deal with Geico, he secured a full clothing deal with
Page & Tuttle and a trade arrangement with Verizon Wireless for phone service. He receives gear from Bridgestone, TaylorMade-Adidas Golf and Club Glove and is in negotiations with Outback Steakhouse and Hooters.

Hey, a guy’s got to eat.

The deals may keep DeCaprio afloat, but they are minor investments for the companies he represents.

For example, Geico already has a stake in golf with endorsement deals with PGA Tour players Joe Durant and Johnson Wagner. Its deal with DeCaprio came about from a relationship going back to his days with the Tampa Bay Lightning. When he approached Geico officials about a possible deal, they said, “Why not?”

“Tom is a smart guy and has done well piecing things together,” says Drew Mills of Mills Marketing Communications, Geico’s sports marketing agency. “We wanted the exposure on his golf bag. There are people that go to those tournaments. We’re looking at any impressions that we would get per event.”

DeCaprio’s performance on the course has yet to catch up with his success reeling in sponsors.

Playing a limited schedule in 2007 in what he called a “knock-the-rust-off year,” DeCaprio struggled while playing in various opens and Monday qualifiers. He begins his competitive season in a Tar Heel Tour event later this month in Charleston, S.C., before trying to qualify in March for a Nationwide Tour event in Louisiana.

Meanwhile, he has some more sponsorship holes to sew up, most notably a marketing “wrap” he’s planning to put on his 35-foot RV. His target?

A gas company, of course.

“I’d really like to target somebody who could benefit from me being all over the place,” DeCaprio says, “and get some gas tossed in.”

• • •

Scott Hamilton is a Golfweek senior writer. To reach him e-mail shamilton@golfweek.com.

By SCOTT HAMILTON
Senior Writer

Tom DeCaprio will be the first to tell you there’s nothing small-time about what he’s doing.

Though he’s a 38-year-old former college golfer who’s grinding on mini-tours, chasing a dream of playing on the game’s biggest stage, DeCaprio is taking a big-time approach. That means going about his business, on and off the course, in a manner befitting major tour players. Just consider the treatment he gives one of his sponsors.

“After I signed the deal with Geico, I switched my insurance to them and really did save money!” says DeCaprio, quoting the insurance company’s slogan.

Yes, DeCaprio knows how to work it.

Despite playing locally in the central Florida area and on the Tar Heel Tour, well away from network television cameras, DeCaprio has assembled a respectable portfolio of corporate sponsors. The deals are tiny compared to those signed by PGA Tour players, but they are nonetheless vital for DeCaprio to continue his chase of a professional golf career.

In a sense what DeCaprio is doing is no different than an entrepreneur seeking startup capital. Beginning a pro golf career requires seed money to pay entry fees and cover expenses. And like others before him, DeCaprio has come up with creative financing. Some have sold “shares” of themselves to raise the necessary cash, with investors getting a return based upon the players’ winnings.

DeCaprio’s sponsorship solution evolved from earlier fiscal challenges. His pursuits on various small tours and regional opens from 1992 to 1999 were paid for by family and friends, often putting DeCaprio in the uncomfortable position of either asking for money or dealing with extra pressure to perform. He eventually gave up golf for a place in the business world.

He accepted a job as senior corporate marketing sales executive for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning from 1999 to 2003 before moving on to serve as sales director for the next four years at the PGA Tour’s Tampa, Fla., event, The PODS Championship (and formerly The Chrysler Championship). DeCaprio sat in on his fair share of sponsorship negotiations, including the renaming of the Lightning’s arena and the brokering of the Tampa tournament’s title deal with moving and storage company PODS (which ends after this year).

The marketing assignments suited him, but DeCaprio couldn’t shelve thoughts of a comeback attempt and began envisioning a trip to Q-School. But this time he had a different plan for subsidizing his efforts.

Using the business lessons he learned, DeCaprio began detailing every expense down to the penny and courted sponsors by submitting a formal business plan. He figures it will cost $65,000 to $85,000 to tee it up this year, chump change in the big leagues, but more than a year’s salary for many Americans.

Aside from a five-figure endorsement deal with Geico, he secured a full clothing deal with
Page & Tuttle and a trade arrangement with Verizon Wireless for phone service. He receives gear from Bridgestone, TaylorMade-Adidas Golf and Club Glove and is in negotiations with Outback Steakhouse and Hooters.

Hey, a guy’s got to eat.

The deals may keep DeCaprio afloat, but they are minor investments for the companies he represents.

For example, Geico already has a stake in golf with endorsement deals with PGA Tour players Joe Durant and Johnson Wagner. Its deal with DeCaprio came about from a relationship going back to his days with the Tampa Bay Lightning. When he approached Geico officials about a possible deal, they said, “Why not?”

“Tom is a smart guy and has done well piecing things together,” says Drew Mills of Mills Marketing Communications, Geico’s sports marketing agency. “We wanted the exposure on his golf bag. There are people that go to those tournaments. We’re looking at any impressions that we would get per event.”

DeCaprio’s performance on the course has yet to catch up with his success reeling in sponsors.

Playing a limited schedule in 2007 in what he called a “knock-the-rust-off year,” DeCaprio struggled while playing in various opens and Monday qualifiers. He begins his competitive season in a Tar Heel Tour event later this month in Charleston, S.C., before trying to qualify in March for a Nationwide Tour event in Louisiana.

Meanwhile, he has some more sponsorship holes to sew up, most notably a marketing “wrap” he’s planning to put on his 35-foot RV. His target?

A gas company, of course.

“I’d really like to target somebody who could benefit from me being all over the place,” DeCaprio says, “and get some gas tossed in.”

• • •

Scott Hamilton is a Golfweek senior writer. To reach him e-mail shamilton@golfweek.com.

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