Apr 20, 2009

The LPGA Takes Positive Actions in Tough Times

I know... it seems like forever ago; That luminous afternoon at Mission Hills when three Americans waged a tense battle in the final round of of the LPGA's first '09 major.

Fans won's soon forget the excitement of that 18th green ... where it was all decided when Cristie Kerr's prodigious 18ft Birdie putt was answered by an amazing Eagle by Brittany Lincicome for the win. And it was definitely a memorable first KNC for Kristy McPherson, who tied with Ms. Kerr for second.

Today those three dynamic Americans are getting ready for a new battle. Along with an international field of top players, they'll be teeing off at the Corona Championship in the charming colonial town of Morelia in Michoacan, Mexico. Local girl Lorena Ochoa is the defending champion.

In a perfect world there'd be tons of TV coverage and live streaming video from Tres Maria's Golf Course, pictured above. ~ As it is coverage in the US will be...quite limited.

I'll checking in regularly with LPGA bloggers like Mostly Harmless, Hound Dog LPGA they aggregate news updates and tie them together with their own original analysis, often multiple times a day. For live reporting ... in 140 characters or less... I'll be following the @LPGA Twitter feed. When well executed, 140 character "tweets" can really tell a story so I was glad to hear (via Twitter) that @LPGA will have a Twitter team on the ground in Morelia.





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News came today that due to poor economic conditions, the 31 year old Corning Classic, will come to an end after a last tournament in May. This brings home, once again, the reality of dwindling sponsorship dollars and the importance of raising the tour's visibility and building fan relationships, so as to appeal to the new cast of companies that will (hopefully) step forth to sponsor sporting events.

The LPGA is acutely aware of this... and they've responded. They've restructured their executive staff with an emphasis on sales and communications, and they're expanding their reach with non-traditional media by credentialing independent bloggers, engaging with fans on Facebook and embracing the art of the Tweet.

As the season progresses, we'll surely be seeing more players, in more places than ever before. The appealing, ultra-talented players are the LPGA Tour's best asset. Potential sponsors, one hopes, will take notice.

23 comments:

  1. It's hard to say what the future will be. In an economy that's declining across the board it's hard to imagine where the sponsorship $$ will come from. It doesn't hurt any sports organization to put more effort into fan relationship initiatives, and it does look like the LPGA is now doing that.

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  2. I am sure the LPGA Commissioner is going to take the heat for this last lost of sponsorship. I hear and read where she is rearranging staff to help sponsors obtain value from their sponsorships and putting pressure on the players to be more participative with sponsors needs...but the bottomline is, LPGA and PGA are going to have to find ways for sponsors to get a huge ROI and be more than someone who writes large checks.
    More people have to enter the game of golf and to do this golf have to become more affordable.
    There are solutions to the problems...it is just going to take all golfers to get out and show why golf is played so more people will want to play..the simple economics here is...more golfers equal more sponsors interest.

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  3. The LPGA lacks a Tiger Woods to drive their ratings through the roof as Tiger did on the PGA Tour. I suppose that's why they pin their hopes on Michelle Wie, as she had the Nike contract, and once seemed like she had the skill to assume that role.

    Problem is, Wie got the money too early and by turning professional so young she missed critical seasoning that Tiger and other champions had. Wie's never, ever won a 72-hole tournament at any level, and stepping into the big leagues to beat the Ochoas and others in the LPGA is a huge step.

    Wie may come around and become the face of the LPGA eventurally, but the jury's out as to whether she will be a Ty Tryon or Tiger...or something in between.

    As for Twitter being a long-term value-addition to sports media gnerally, that's highly debatable. It is the technology du joiur but is blocked by most corporate firewalls and has a shaky economic and technical model. Twitter will not last long after the Next Big Thing comes along, and I say that as someone with close to thirty years experience in Internet economics and management.

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  4. Charles,

    Thirty years of Internet economics? Hmmm. I thought Al Gore invented the Internet sometime during Bill Clinton's first-term (wasn't it?), oh, about 1994.

    Good point about Wie and "seasoning." That's amazing that she's never won a 72-hole event. Not even in junior golf? Yikes. Yes, Tiger learned to win early and often. If you ever hear him talk about his childhood, when he was 11 or 12, he was winning a couple of dozen events a year on the juvenile circuit of SoCal. In his mid teens he was playing a national amateur schedule and so on.

    Wie needs to take a breath and become part of the LPGA's mainstream. It's probably not as glamourous as it sounds...you know, slogging your way to 23 or 18 (or however many events they play) and teeing it up with the ams on Tuesday, Wednesday and (do they still play three-rounds in some stops?) Thursday. That's the only way she'll get where she wants to be.

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  5. "Thirty years of Internet economics? Hmmm. I thought Al Gore invented the Internet sometime during Bill Clinton's first-term (wasn't it?), oh, about 1994."

    Sigh. Al Gore never said he invented the Internet in the first place. Dick Armey said Al Gore said he invented the Internet, but what Gore actually said (and correctly stated) was that he was

    At the time of this writing, the Internet as it exists today is 26 years, 2 months, 3 weeks, 5 days and 8 hours old.

    If you think it was a startup project, you would be wrong. It was preceded by store and forward bulletin boards on the public side and MILNET and ARPAnet on the government side. Milnet still exists as the Defense Data Network today.

    My involvement with the Internet actually precedes the Internet as in college we worked with Dr. Karl Ramm and his students Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis over at Duke in constructing Usenet in 1980. UNC and Duke were the first two exchangers of Usenet data followed quickly by us at NC State and the North Carolina Supercomputing Center in the Research Triangle Park.

    So yes, I stand by my statement. I have seen a lot of tech good and bad come and go on the Internet and I predict that the Internet itself will be obsoleted in 10-15 years. Anyone with an I2 account and an understanding of internetworking and TCP/IP engineering can tell you that much.

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  6. "Gore actually said (and correctly stated) was that he was involved in funding the formation of the Internet in Congress." - was what I should had added.

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  7. This recession is causing big companies to give up sponsorship of tournaments, even more so than in past recessions, because this recession is so closely associated with high flying executives and their luxury lifestyles. In other words corporate jets, yachts, beautiful mistresses and golf. That's the perception anyway so the companies are cutting back on "those types of things" at least publicly. I don't guess the companies will be back till luxury comes back in style. In the meantime the more the players can get get visibility, and present an image that's positive, the more likely the LPGA will have a chance at the few remaining sports sponsorships still out there.

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  8. The LPGA Tour has an opportunity here given the same difficulty that the PGA Tour is having in keeping sponsors. If they can prove that they're giving more bang for less buck than the PGA Tour, the LPGA Tour may be able to suck up sponsors that are defecting from the PGA Tour.

    I don't think it is the job of the LPGA Tour to show that golf for amateurs is great. That's the USGA and PGA of America, et al, from that level. The LPGA Tour's job is to attract both sponsors and fans that line up with each other.

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  9. The LPGA, as Charles points out, doesn't have a Tiger. They have quite a few very appealing, very talented players, but no one big star.

    Tiger brings in legions of fans/sponsers so other PGA players can (and often do) avoid any/all contact with fans.

    At tournaments (and at pro am events, I've heard) the LPGA players really interact with fans, give them the time of day. Now they're starting to do the same kind of "social marketing" via the internet and I think it's great. As Ryan said this might just be a golden opportunity to reach fans...and sponsors who are defecting from the PGA for cost/reward reasons.

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  10. I spoke with an LPGA tour caddy who lives in the Corning, NY area. She hubby own and operate a driving range. She told me about the loss of the event and said she and others felt it was due in part to the large influx of Korean women on the tour and the scarcity of new American women. I was wondering if anyone else thinks that may be a part of the reason for the decline in LPGA sponsorship

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  11. LINYMan,

    Unfortunately, I think that your contact may be correct in the assessment that Korean dominance of the women's tour is hurting it in America. Like most every nation on the planet, there is a level of xenophobia here that simply cannot be ignored.

    I think that is part of the reason the LPGA tried to institute an English policy. The tour absolutely needs to have its top flight golfers able to communicate easily with their core audience.

    The LGPA has a great product, but that product desperately needs a face, someone that folks will make a point to watch. The face of a Natlie Gulbis with the golf of a Babe Didrickson Zaharias mixed with the grace of Audrey Hepburn is probably a recurring dream that Carolyn Bivens has and one she wishes would come true.

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  12. Real shame about the Corning Classic. But upstate new york, my neck of the woods, is a hurting unit . . .

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  13. Maybe it's not so much xenophobia, Charles, as the fact that we like to be able to relate directly to the players. I prefer watching women to men because it's easier to imagine myself "in their shoes" than playing a man's game. I also relate more to older women players than the teens & 20 year olds since I'm on the far side of 40. Cultural identification is one other way to slice it. The LPGA's challenge is to come up with narratives to frame the players so that women can broadly identify with them. Of course it would help if the tourneys got better t.v. coverage . . .

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  14. this is off subject but i enjoyed tigers absence. it was nice to know there are other golfers. the media dose not get this. but the media. is the problem these days

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  15. All of this talk makes me miss Annika Sorenstam even more than ever. I believe that she was *kind of* the Tiger of the LPGA and I'm sad that she retired from public life in golf so early. I also have to agree that the influx of foreign women golfers has hurt the LPGA and will continue to do so until more American women step up to the LPGA tee.

    So... Al Gore was into porn sites, huh? Well, if you do your homework, you will find that the porn sites are the ones who really developed most of the technology that we utilize on the internet today, my friends. Sad & disgusting, but true. The government basically invented it, but I'm quite certain Al Gore was still popping his zits at that time.

    And, I have to agree that I rather enjoyed Tiger's absence from the PGA, as it did enable everyone to witness that there are other winning golfers out there. That said, he made his comeback just in the nick of time with the economy having such an adverse effect on the world of golfing.

    Great thought provoking post, Patricia!

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  16. One thing the LPGA is good at is getting their stars to tournaments. Most top golfers play roughly 15 times during the year.

    The LPGA is also great at online marketing...Twitter, Facebook, etc. They put their players in front of fans...but their could be some better cross promo w/ PGA outside of the Silly Season...

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  17. Snooty Primadona said: "the influx of foreign women golfers has hurt the LPGA"

    The LPGA has been dominated by "foreign women" for years and years. Annika is Swedish, Karri Webb is Australian, Lorena Ochoa is Mexican. I don't think it's a foreign-ness problem, it's an Asian-ness problem. An acquaintance calls this racism. I won't go that far, but it does make you think.

    Good golf is good golf. Why should anyone care where a player was born or what language she speaks at home or with her friends? As an older woman, I relate a lot better to Juli Inkster than Mindy Kim. But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the beauty and grace of a well-struck five-iron that comes to rest at tap-in range, regardless whose name was on the back of the caddie's bib. If you love golf, each player is on the the home team.

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  18. "Why should anyone care where a player was born or what language she speaks at home or with her friends?"

    Because to reach the broader audience, the LPGA must reach into the casual-fan market, and not rely on a somewhat shrinking market of hardcore fans.

    Compare the ratings of the PGA in a tournament where Woods is at or near the lead on the weekend versus when he is mired in the middle of the field. Most all of those are casual fans who want to see Tiger win moreso than fine golf.

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  19. Great posts to this thread, Mr. Boyer.

    This is a golf blog. My assumption is that it's populated by the hard-core. When I see golf blog posts saying the LPGA is dominated by foreigners I get worried because people who write that are most likely saying the same thing to their casual-fan friends.

    We will have difficulty convincing others the LPGA is an entertainment bargain if we, ourselves, don't really believe it.

    That's why it shouldn't matter where a player was born or what language she speaks.

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  20. I think Kristen's point about wanting to relate to the players is at the root of the Anti-Asian bias that hovers around the LPGA tour.

    It's not that Americans don't like the Asian players, we just don't know them. And...to be perfectly honest, we often can't tell one excellent Korean champion from another. We sometimes see them as all looking very similar Right? Because as westerners we're just not used to processing Asian features.

    Then there's the language. It's extraordinarily difficult to a language like Korean, and when you're dedicated to playing golf at a very high level. You probably won't have the time to learn.

    I just hope the LPGA can find a way to market these players.

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  21. Oh, I get it. Kristen and Ashgolf are going out for drinks with some of the Korean Tour players, but they don't speak the same language you do and even if they did, you couldn't tell them apart.

    Come on guys, these are professional athletes. You're probably not going to run into them on the street even if you're in the city they're playing that week. But if you do, away from the course they they take off the game face, they have personalities, and they're fun. Most have rudimentary English communication skills.

    I'm sad that you need to find excuses for your discomfort with people who come from a different culture.

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  22. I'm afraid you've misunderstood Mr... Anonymous.

    No one said anything going out for drinks. No one said anything about discomfort, for that matter. I (Kristen too, I imagine) was talking about affinity.

    And the fact is, fans often tend to support players they have an affinity... or connection with. It could be they went to the same school, or they come from the same ... region. Anyway, as was mentioned by several comentors, many American fans like to root for American players. And, I maintain there are lots of Americans who when one asks..."who's in the lead?" might very well repond, "Um...that Asian girl...ah, I can't remember her name... one of the really good Asian girls."

    Would anyone be shocked to hear that response? I don't think so.

    I've been to several LPGA events and I've met both Yani Tseng and Inbee Park. They were great; funny, friendly and accessible.

    That's why I feel it's important for the LPGA help fans get to know these stars.

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  23. Ash, I agree with you almost compeltely, but still maintain that the "soft" golf fan will relate far faster to an American than anyone else. The LPGA's core audience remains here and those folks still want "someone like them" to rally around.

    I've spoken to Se Ri Pak and was quite smitten with her. Hey, I am a guy after all, and Se Ri is not only a nice person who is congenial and friendly when you catch her in the right context, she's also a lot prettier than television conveys.

    Were I a younger and single guy, I might have been brave enough to ask her to dinner. :-)

    Anyway, that conversation changed my take on Se Ri as robot to Se Ri as a definitely human and real person who makes for a dear friend to those who know her well.

    Too bad that *that* Se Ri Pak is not more well known.

    Also, it is a Very Good Thing (tm) that the LPGA has gotten TV coverage in Korea itself, after all, that is the home market for a lot of the tour's top golfers and will undoubtedly be a strong draw.

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