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Firm will tone down 2009 event

The Arizona Republic, September 30, 2008

By Peter Corbett

Corporate entertaining will be toned down, but the title sponsor of the 2009 FBR Open will honor its commitment to the Valley's largest charitable event, despite the financial firm's economic woes.

The Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc will cut back substantially on the 600 to 700 clients and employees the company hosts at the golf tournament, said Bill Stephens, FBR Capital Inc.'s executive vice president of marketing.

"That's us being prudent and our clients being prudent," Stephens said. "The market is not good for other folks, either."

FBR, the title sponsor since the 2004 Open, has been suffering fallout from the mortgage and credit crises like many other financial institutions. That economic turmoil appears likely to reduce corporate sponsorships of sports, cultural events and non-profits.

Sponsor fallout likely

Automakers, banks and other financial institutions, all battered by the economic meltdown, are among the biggest sponsors of events, said William Chipps, senior editor of the IEG Sponsorship Report.

Last year, some of the top sponsors included General Motors, at more than $235 million; Ford, $145 million; Chrysler, $100 million: Bank of America, $120 million, and further down the list, the American International Group,

The Federal Reserve Board rescued AIG earlier this month with a loan of up to $85 billion.

"It's been a challenging selling environment in 2008," Chipps said. "It will be more challenging going forward as the economic crisis has just gained momentum over the past several weeks."

FBR, based in Arlington, Va., has suffered as well. It reported a $25 million loss in the second quarter. Shares fell 6 cents Monday to close at $1.54, off 68.5 percent from a 52-week high of $4.90 and off more than 93 percent from a five-year high of $21.31.

But that will not affect its sponsorship of the FBR Open next year and through 2012, Stephens said.

The tournament, the best-attended PGA Tour event, is set for Jan. 26 to Feb. 1 at the TPC Scottsdale.

"I cannot predict the long-term future, but we look forward to continuing this relationship," he said. "It's been great for us."

FBR extends deal

FBR's first four-year deal with the host Thunderbirds started in 2004. A second four-year deal was signed in August 2007.

FBR and the Thunderbirds raised more than $25 million for charity in the first four years of the deal.

Tim Louis, Thunderbirds big chief, said FBR's cutbacks are not likely to have a severe impact on the Open.

"We have a lot of support from other corporate sponsors," he said.

But the economic meltdown could put a damper on entertaining by those other sponsors as well, said Ray Artigue, executive director of the sports-business master's program at Arizona State University.

"Companies are less likely to throw a big party in the face of employee layoffs and want to be careful how they conduct themselves," Artigue said. "And that goes double for public entities."