Not long ago Sherry Tabb, who runs the excellent blog Ladies on the Tee, lamented the abysmal amount of TV and print media coverage for women’s golf events on the local and national levels.
In her post... or "rant" as she called it... Sherry speculates that sportscasters are ignoring women's golf. She states the facts...little national coverage and almost no local coverage... and asks her readers to weigh in on this sorry state of afairs. She gets some heartfelt replies from readers who clearly love the women's game, however what it seems to come down to is fans... particularly women fans. There just aren't enough of them.
When you attend LPGA or Futures events, what do the galleries look like? Lots more men than women right? When there is LPGA coverage on TV do you honestly think there are legions of women watching? I'm guessing the TV audience for LPGA events breaks down the same way the general golf audience does; about 25% female...at best.
Despite its excellent female-focused content, its name..."Ladies on the Tee"... and its tagline, "A Golf Community for Women", I would guess the majority of those reading Sherry's blog are men ... or at least, that the most active and engaged readers are.
And take Twitter; a study of Twitter usage during the fourth quarter of 2008, found 57% of users to be male, however a far great percentage of @MorganPressel's followers are male. It looks like her following is at least 75% male...probably closer to 80%. Same holds true for the followers of other LPGA players: @mfrancella, @natalie_gulbis and @theannarawson. While @LPGA appears to have a somewhat higher percentage of female followers, males still outnumber them.
No, sportscasters are not the problem. The problem - and the sooner we face it the more quickly we can do something about it - is that the LPGA doesn't have enough fans ...particularly female fans, and particularly in the US... to be able to garner the advertisers... and hence the TV coverage... it deserves. As Sherry rightly points out, the talent and appeal of today's players is not what's lacking. Its the coverage,
So you have a classic Catch 22 at play: You can't build the fan base without coverage, and you can't get coverage without the fan base.
I know... it all sounds pretty hopeless. Except that we're at a very unique time right now; one that leaves several doors open for change. Traditional media is being transformed before our eyes, in ways I won't go into here. But the crowd sourced, user generated, search driven, social world of new media, certainly allows for the popularization of a niche market like women's golf. Like never before, current supporters of women's golf can evangelize their passion through websites, blogs, podcasts, Internet TV and social networks... players can bond with fans the same way, and it's happening more and more.
Happily, the LPGA, with a recently reorganized communications staff of forward thinking MarCom professionals, seems to understand this well. At the same time they're negotiating the television contracts that bring traditional coverage into traditional living rooms, they're astutely reaching out to the virtual world. They've recently made the decision to credential bloggers for LPGA tournaments, and have made their own site more interactive and exciting. Not long ago they partnered with Ladies Link Fore Golf, to reach and engage as many fans... particularly those difficult to engage females... as possile. In addition, you'll find the LPGA actively communicating on Twitter and Facebook.
With recent improvements in technology, live streaming over the Internet is now possible, as was so effectively demonstrated at the Masters recently. One hopes that the as the technology becomes more ubiquitous and contractual details are worked out, this can be a way to provide a measure of the coverage that we fans find lacking.
While I'm writing this, the 2009 LPGA Players summit is taking place in Williamsburg, VA. With speakers such as Nancy Lopez and Billie Jean King, heavy emphasis is being placed on PR, the Internet and interaction with fans, which in a unique display of transparency and new media openness is being tweeted live by @morganpressel and @lpga staffers. And word out of Williamsburg has it there'll soon be more LPGA players twittering.
New media definitely does provide new opportunities to grow interest in... and support for... women's golf (and other women's sports). It won't happen overnight but with the LPGA doing what it's doing and with dedicated bloggers like Sherry Tabb out there I have no doubt it will grow and once it does I believe more coverage on cable and network television and even on local news channels will follow.