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Sony’s good for Hawaii

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Sony’s decision to extend its sponsorship of the Sony Open in Hawaii by three years — and to broadcast the PGA Tour’s first full-field event of 2011 in 3-D at that — is another welcome indicator of the islands’ steadily mending economy and renewed corporate confidence in its comeback.

Sponsorship of a professional golf tournament is no small investment. For the Sony Open, that would be a minimum of $5.5 million in prize money alone, with anticipated yearly increases of 5 percent. Next year, there will be the added cost of shooting in 3-D, which requires special video cameras and separate technical crews and facilities.

But the PGA Tour is truly global these days, and marquee players such as Lee Westwood of England (who has supplanted Tiger Woods as the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer), K.J. Choi of South Korea and Camilo Villegas of Colombia ensure that its appeal as a televised sporting event reaches far beyond the United States and Europe. Sony Open officials say the event was seen in more than 450 million homes in 200 countries in 2010, including the promising new tourism markets of Korea and China.

With 3-D looking like it could blossom into the next consumer craze, Sony is eager to showcase its know-how and products, and the islands’ full-palette backdrop of mountains, sky, sun and sea provide the ultimate demo images.

For Hawaii, the Sony Open is a four-day marketing blitz of another kind: a beckoning reminder to folks in parts of the country trapped in the dead of winter that paradise not only exists, it has plenty of rooms.

When Sony, which had sponsored the tournament since 1999, announced a one-year renewal last year, it was feared the electronics giant would step away after 2011. But after considering its options, Sony made the choice to commit to Hawaii.

"It was a hard decision to make, and sponsorships are normally very difficult to decide on, especially in a long term like three years at a time when the economy is (ailing)," Sony Hawaii General Manager Kay Aoki told the Star-Advertiser’s Ferd Lewis. "But the contribution of the Sony Open to us is huge and we decided it would be well worth it."

In line with PGA Tour policies, a portion of tournament proceeds help support charitable organizations in Hawaii and Sony has been a valued member of the community in that regard, too. Through the group Friends of Hawaii Charities, the Sony Open contributes more than $1 million a year in grants to island nonprofits aiding women, children, the elderly and impoverished.

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the Sony Open has an economic impact of about $24 million. That’s about $4 million less than the HTA’s impact estimate for the Pro Bowl, which returns to Hawaii in 2011 and will provide another needed tourism boost.

Of course, the state is paying the NFL at least $4 million for the Pro Bowl. And, no, it won’t be in 3-D.


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