It’s been a tough spring for Josh Doxtator, PGA chief operating officer for Oneida Golf Enterprises Corp./Thornberry Creek at Oneida and the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic. The volatile April weather resulted in a two- to three-week delay in opening the course this year. But with final preparations underway for the second edition of the LPGA Classic July 3 to 8, he took time to sit down with Insight’s Sean Johnson to discuss the value hosting such an event brings to the Oneida and Northeast Wisconsin.
Insight: The Oneida have a unique relationship with the LPGA for the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic in that the Oneida Tribe owns the event. Why was that important?
Josh Doxtator: It’s the first time you have that combination in a major sports arena where a tribe owns the event, and I think that speaks a lot to the Nation. The Nation was the first to partner with an NFL team in its partnership with the Green Bay Packers. The Oneida have had a lot of firsts, and it’s nice to be a part of this one.
When you are involved with a major event, you can be a title sponsor — which means you cover a significant, but not the entire cost — and have your name attached to it. When you own it, you’re the only name on it, and you own all the revenues and everything that comes from the event. But, you’re also making that investment upfront to cover all the costs of it as well. There’s a bit more risk involved.
For the Nation, ownership means we can generate exposure to a facility like Thornberry and all the assets in the area. The thought process is we can create a much bigger impact, not just for Oneida assets, but greater Green Bay and the Fox Valley area. We had more than 60,000 spectators in year one, with 91 percent coming from within the state of Wisconsin and 42 percent from within a 40-mile radius. It’s a specific demographic that’s coming to the event and being exposed to a lot of different things.
What does that mean economically for the Oneida and the greater Northeast Wisconsin region?
For the Nation, when we host an event like this, we know that our hotels are going to be impacted, and of course, gaming is a big part of that. We are trying to create a whole integration and do a better job of making sure people utilize all those different outlets.
When it comes to the broader impact, we’ve also made it a point to be very specific in having sponsorship partners that are local or statewide. That’s why we have Prevea Health as the official health care sponsor and Festival Foods as the official grocer. This year, we added Badger State Brewing Co. as our official beer.
We really try to tie in Wisconsin, not only culture, but those great products we’re known for.
The total overall economic impact last year was about $7.2 million. On a scale of events and what they bring to the area, no one is going to touch the Green Bay Packers, and we understand that. But the next closest event to us from an economic impact position was “Antiques Roadshow” at $2 million. When you separate yourself by $5 million in the community in a week that’s usually slow economically, you sense you are doing something right.
What is it about Wisconsin that attracts these big golf events? How were you able to use that to position Thornberry for an LPGA event?
The conversations started in March 2015, which gives you an idea of how much of a lead-in there was for the first event in 2017. Once ownership committed to going down that path, we really started putting in that infrastructure and redoing the facilities.
There are some detailed numbers we were provided showing this region ranks as the No. 1 market per capita for people who love the game of golf. We are No. 2 in the nation for those who love the game of golf and consider themselves fans of the professional tours.
Part of it is that our season here is just four to five months. People in Wisconsin love golf. They love to watch professional golf and they love to be outside, have a beer and be at a cool venue. Frankly, I think it all ties in together.
What made you decide to pursue an LPGA event? With that tour’s past struggles, what were the opportunities you saw that made it an option?
We looked at the brand of the LPGA and how much it’s changed over time. There was a time where it was declining and went down to like 21 or 22 events for the tour. But a new commissioner has come in who has totally rebranded the tour. Now, there are 36 events and they have more TV time than they’ve ever had.
From a growth position, it’s far and above the better value.
The new commissioner also stressed players should engage the fans and sponsors. They know how important that is to their livelihood. At our event last year, Paula Creamer was playing, and she’s a well-known name. There was a group of 12 girls that came in from four hours away to watch her play golf on Saturday, but she missed the cut Friday. She heard they were coming, stayed and hung out with them that day.
Sports tourism has become a huge economic driver nationally and in Wisconsin. Why does it work so well here?
If you look at Wisconsin, compared to where I came from in Phoenix, all your teams here are homegrown as opposed to transplants. People here will follow and pay to see major events, and that includes golf events.
We have also made sure we don’t price ourselves out of the market for the average fan. Mom and Dad can bring the kids out to watch the best women athletes in the world play golf for 50 bucks. That’s one of the best things from last year is looking at the 27,000 pictures that were taken that week and seeing all these young kids smiling with players. That’s community impact.