BETHESDA, Md. – The PGA Tour announced another important sponsorship Wednesday, agreeing to a 10-year deal with Web.com as the sponsor of its developmental tour.
The Web.com Tour replaces what had been known as the Nationwide Tour, and the change was effective immediately.
The agreement comes four months after the tour renewed its deal for the FedEx Cup, a $35 million bonus series. Last fall, the tour negotiated a nine-year television deal with NBC Sports and CBS Sports, meaning its TV contracts are set through 2021.
Web.com takes over a tour that is to become the primary path for players to reach the PGA Tour.
Starting in September 2013, the top 75 players from the Web.com Tour and the top 75 PGA Tour players who failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs will meet in a three-tournament series that effectively replaces Q-school. Fifty cards would be awarded after those three events.
Web.com, based in Jacksonville, Fla., is a provider of internet services and online marketing solutions to small- and medium-sized businesses. The company was founded in 1997. Since going public in 2005, chairman and chief executive David Brown said it has grown from 50,000 customers to 3 million customers, and its revenues have increased from $30 million to $500 million.
"It's OK that you don't know the 'Web.com' name. That's by design," Brown said. "We've been a very quiet company up to this point. But we believe that mass adoption of the internet by small businesses is happening now, so now we think it's the time to strike."
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, though the return on name recognition alone is proven. Nationwide took over as the umbrella sponsor in 2003, and it has turned into a noun in the golf world — the name of PGA Tour's minor leagues.
This is the fifth name of the tour's developmental circuit. It began in 1990 as the Hogan Tour, which gave to the Nike Tour. It became the Buy.com Tour in 2000 until Nationwide took over.
Brown said his company was looking for a branding campaign and considered various options, including a chance to become the title sponsor of the PGA Tour event in the Tampa, Fla., area at Innisbrook. That would have given him exposure for one week. He believes a Web.com Tour provides exposure around the country all year.
"They are a company that has no conflicts among title sponsors on this tour," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said. "They're a company that's well-positioned. They're in a growth mode. Because they deal with literally millions of small businesses around the United States, they are a company that's interested in every single market in this country."
Brown said the deal would include an advertising campaign that will start next month.
He said the increased importance of the developmental tour as the only road to the PGA Tour was not a fundamental part in deciding to be the sponsor.
The next step for the tour is to figure how to distribute PGA Tour cards through the Web.com Tour.
The tour's policy board already has approved a change in the schedule. Starting in 2013, the new season will begin after the FedEx Cup playoffs in September. The wraparound season will end at the Tour Championship in 2014.
Three models for blending the 150 players from the Web.com Tour and PGA Tour are under consideration, though two are considered the leading options.
In one model, the top 15 players from the Web.com Tour would start the three-tournament series with whatever money they earned that year. It would be enough money to guarantee their cards. Everyone else would start from scratch, meaning 35 cards would be up for grabs.
In the second model, the top 25 players from the Web.com Tour would be guaranteed their cards. They would join the others in the three-tournament series, with everyone starting from scratch, so only 25 cards would be at stake. The only thing the top 25 players from the Web.com Tour could lose, even if they missed every cut, would be their priority ranking for getting into tournaments.
That means the debate is whether to award 15 or 25 cards based on players' season performance on the Web.com Tour.
Tour officials are going back to the player advisory councils on the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour, with hopes of arriving at a conclusion before the British Open next month.