Overcoming the Catch-22 in Women's Golf

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% 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.


  1. P - there's something you're overlooking. As great sounding as streaming internet coverage is - you still have to have cameras on site and pay crews to run the cameras and call the action. Pointing to what happened at The Masters doesn't do any good if you skip the cost and manpower aspects.

    As good as women's golf has gotten and as much fun as it is to watch, it is an even smaller niche than men's golf when Tiger Woods isn't playing.

  2. Actually Court...the point is, soon you won't have to have all that manpower.

    Right now, one person with a camera phone can stream live video onto the internet. Patricia's done it herself. The quality, currently isn't good, but you can sure see the potential.

    I tend to agree with Golf Girl: as this kind of technology develops, smaller niche sports will be able get coverage, because a huge infrastructure won't be needed, just a dedicated team of passionate citizen journalists, working with forward thinking organizations like the LPGA.

    That, in any case, is the dream and I think Patricia does a good job articulating it.

  3. I went to Sybase last year and loved it. The players were so players were so friendly. My niece got autographs from quite a few of them. I'm going again this year and I can't wait.

  4. I love the LPGA. Everyone who watches a tournament with we ends up loving it too. I think they'll be fine because they know it's all changing and they're adapting. BTW, I'm not so sure about the PGA.

  5. well just dang - beam me up, Scotty. So you're saying that...however many people walking a golf course with cell phones (which aren't allowed on the course) will somehow cover an entire golf tournament with no perspective or connection to the shots they are pointing their at - with no ability to show where the ball goes or where it came from, no coordination between shots, and no perspective from player to player on the course ?

  6. Court...? I don't think that's what they're saying at all. They're saying that with tech improvements and an open view, LPGA may be able to take select bloggers/writers/citizen journos...that they have screened... and have them cover events in a controlled way, thus becoming less dependant on traditional media and advertisers.

    It's a good thing. Langston can correct me if I'm wrong. :)

  7. Until someone figures out how to have a 48 hour day, golf, men's and women's, will be relegated to "B" status in terms of network coverage. Golf is a pimple on a gnat's ass compared to the NFL and even NASCAR. Throw in some MLB and NBA and a number of college events and golf gets the short stick. As it should.

    As much of a golf nut that I am, I also know I'm in a distinct minority. Because of it's limited access, expensive fees and equipment, costly greens fees, golf, with all the 1st Tee programs in the world, is an exclusive undertaking. A kid can play hoops in their driveway, but can't necessarily have the means or transportation to a golf course. I don't see that changing in my lifetime. Additionally, I must admit, compared to playing, watching golf is like watching paint dry.

    Golf should be content with it's niche and aspire to be the best of the niche events.

    My local course, where I was a member for 9 years recently decided to make the move from 9 to 18 holes. The cost overruns forced the owner to skimp on the new nine and lose focus on the original nine. What was a meticulously maintained 9 hole course is now an 18 hole dog track. Before the move, when he polled the membership, the consensus had been to make the 9 hole layout the best 9 hole layout anyone could find. I haven't joined for year 10. Sometimes less is more, something golf should consider.

  8. What a shame about your course Bobbio.

    I'm thinking they made their plans to go for the 18 when the economy was rocketing up and America had mistakenly begun to believe in an unsustainable standard of living... where no one had to work - all we had to do was buy some real estate and we'd just keep getting richer. If that were the case the 18 would make sense. Now as you say it's a flop, which is too bad.

    I think the LPGA understands that they can't (don't want to) try to compete with NFL, NBA or even PGA, they just want to engage their fans and potential fans as much as possible and they're willing to do that in a methodical through new technology and their appealing, accessible stars. As Growl says, "it's a good thing."

    BTW, I agree with Ash. I don't think the PGA is there yet.

  9. Excellent post. The LPGA has not done a good job of telling it's story in a compelling way.

    Like the PGA tour is running the risk of by doing the same thing w/Tiger. The LPGA sort of sat back and was ok w/the Annika storyline as the default narrative for why anyone should be interested in or care about their tour.

    Now though, by reaching out and being more engaged with social media (blogs, twitter, facebook etc.) they're getting engaged in the dialogue. As long as they carry a real voice and are transparent they'll see some improvement, but this won't be fixed overnight. Hopefully they can ride out the recession to greener pastures and new sponsors.


  10. Interesting debate about the traditional media vs using volunteers and internet bloggers to cover a game of golf. I'm pretty sure that I've mentioned this before when I've commented on some of Patricia's other posts but I think the main difficulty with the Internet is the lack of coordination from those that publish on it.

    I've no doubt that the exercise in telecasting a golf tournament - four days, 18 holes, and a lot of players is a major challenge for the traditional media that broadcast it, requiring extensive management and planning skills. The thing that I've noticed about the Internet is that people tend to work alone a lot of the time. You'd really need a good group of people with complementing skills and the ability to work together in a coordinated effort before some of this stuff could happen.

  11. Growl - the select group of "new media" cannot cover a golf tournament the way a major media broadcaster can. What the LPGA is inviting in now will be able to write and maybe get a few pictures out on their blog and internet sites - but not broadcast coverage of a tournament.

    This started with a complaint about the lack of TV and print coverage of women's golf - which then brought up the internet coverage of The Masters.

    Here's the problem - there was no mention that the internet coverage was being drawn from the CBS cameras covering the tournament.

    To suggest that a tournament can be covered over the internet without considering where the video came from in the first place is short sighted. That Masters feed did not just magically appear - and it certainly didn't come from some blogger with a camera on his cell phone.

    You might think that those sort of things can happen if you believe that Star Trek is real - but it's just not reality right now.

  12. Thanks for the comments.

    It's definitely a time of transition for golf... and for journalism/media... and as Bobbio's story illustrates, timing is everything.

    Right now we're actually living the transformation from the traditional media model to ...something else, no one is quite sure what... and as Malcolm points out, currently there are myriad individuals, all going in their own directions, trying to be the next big thing.

    This is what happens when there's a radical and rapid transformation in the way we do something.

    It won't happen overnight, as Hack said, but ultimately organizations like the LPGA and PGA... as well as traditional media players and brands... with the required management and planning background, will step in. They'll hire some of the best bloggers and social media voices, and put together the kind of entities needed to harness a niche like women's golf and bring it to fans in an effective, efficient way, thus allowing it to thrive.

    I'm one of those who feel that the future of media...once a generational change is complete... will be almost exclusively online and that a system of charging for online content (and paying those who produce it) will eventually emerge. We'll see. :o)

  13. Sorry to hear about your old home course, Bobbio. Good ideas and intentions just don't always pan out.

    Here's a question for you. Name an activity that DOESN'T have limited access. Everything has limits. Golf is what it is - basketball is what IT is - so is baseball, football, hockey, airplane flying, tiddly winks.... This constant condemnation of golf as "elitist" is ridiculous.

  14. I never said "elitist". No doubt though, golf, by nature, is exclusionary.

  15. "golf, by nature, is exclusionary."

    I take it you have never been to the United Kingdom or Ireland. While there are exclusive courses there, the game most certainly is not exclusionary.

    It is a choice America collectively made for golf to generally be a game of the cognescenti. That statement certainly is not true in other parts of the world, and golf is better for it.

    In my view that sprung from the USGA's infatuation with amateurs (read: rich people) in the formative days of the American game in the early 20th century. Even then, "mere caddies" like Frances Ouimet carried the American banner against the likes of Harry Vardon. And the they won.

    Back to point, many villages and towns in Ireland and Scotland have municipal courses, some of which you pay in a mailbox slot as much as you can afford. There are no carts there, you walk. There are no cart girls there, you bring your own beverage. No rangers, no GPS, no cart boys, none of it -- just golf.

    And keep in mind on Sunday, even the venerable Old and New courses of St. Andrews are closed and are for the exclusive use of the citizens of the town. The R&A may run the course, but the townspeople own it and it is their day to use as they see fit.

    Bottom line is that golf may be exclusionary here, but that certainly isn't the case in the place where the game sprung from.

  16. Courtgolf,

    I suggested internet streaming in a blog on my site back on April 27th.That was immediately after the Ochoa-Petterson duel was in the dark here in the US, and I questioned why the LPGA doesn't embrace streaming.

    My solution was simple; use the television stream that heads back to Korea or the one that (I think) was used in Mexico. Like many foreign feeds, have a pair of announcers back at LPGA headquarters or maybe even spring to fly them to the tournament site.

    The LPGA owns its television rights and surely it could negotiate usage of feeds not intended for America to feed that market in a non-traditional way. Heck, the Golf Channel has done this for years by rebroadcasting Euro Tour coverage whose provenance was the BBC or Sky Broadcasting. Doubt many of you folks would have heard much of the fabulous Renton Laidlaw had it not been for that, in fact.

  17. I do the website for one of the yearly LPGA tournament stops (Wegmans LPGA - Rochester, NY), and this topic makes me recall a conversation I had with the tournament director a couple of years ago.

    In Rochester we have a few big companies who have major offices here. Xerox, Kodak, and Bausch & Lomb to name a few. Anyways, I remember the tournament director telling me one year how she was frustrated at the fact that she's never been able to get Xerox to throw any real sponsorship money at her LPGA tournament. The tournament has been here for 32 years and Xerox hasn't shown a lot of love towards it.

    Low and behold, 3 years ago it was decided that Rochester would host a Nationwide tour event. Guess who was the main sponsor?

    Xerox was willing to throw all sorts of money at essentially the "minor league of men's golf", but won't give the pro ladies the time of day for 32 years?

    Sweet justice is served though. They had to cancel the Nationwide event in what would have been its 4th year this year. All this, while the LPGA event still goes strong here in Rochester.

    This is one of many reasons I despise Xerox.

  18. Charles,

    Points well made. However, here is where I golf and golfing in Europe excludes me. If the European model was transferred here, where the debate exists, then I'd be the first to applaud.

  19. It's probably been since 2006 or so that I first thought the LPGA Tour could really get ahead of the curve by doing live event streaming. It really is do-able in this day and age. You can't discount the production cost, but the LPGA Tour had at one time formed its own production company to create content for its tournaments, etc. They could really expand that to produce online streaming. It's their best bet to get the action out there. Probably even more so than Golf Channel, believe it or not.

  20. If the tour encourages players to help grow the fan base through social networking sites, think how many Asian players who have difficulty carrying on an English conversation will be able to get involved as well. That would make them seem less "different" than US fans perceive them to be, right?


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