Time for an International LPGA Tour

by Jeff Skinner

The search for the new commissioner of the LPGA continues with a new candidate emerging from the interview process. According to Randall Mell of GolfChannel.com, Jonathan Ward appears to be a serious contender for the position vacated when Carolyn Bivens was removed by a player’s mutiny this summer. Whoever the new commissioner is, he needs to rethink the way The LPGA does business. The old adage “when life deals you lemons, make lemonade” should be incorporated into the new mission statement of the “New and Improved LPGA.”

The LPGA has been hit harder than most sport leagues this past year. A “perfect storm” of contributing factors combined to devastate the tour this year. The economic crisis caused sponsors dollars to disappear. The LPGA’s greatest player and biggest draw, Annika Sorenstam, left to start her family. The LPGA’s dysfunctional commissioner’s strong arm tactics drove sponsors, tournaments and administrative staff from the tour like it had the Swine Flu and the lack of American faces at the top of leader boards created an apathetic American fan base.

All of this will force the new commissioner and the tour to reinvent itself, kind of like Madonna does every few years. The LPGA should look at this as an opportunity to draft a new mission statement and change its business plan. If the sponsorship money in the United States has dried up, it is time to go where the money is. It is time to take the tour to where corporations will pony up sponsorships and fans will buy tickets. It is time to make the LPGA a truly international tour by establishing more events in Asia.

The tour is hoping for 23-25 tournaments on the 2010 schedule, down from 34 tour stops in 2008 and it is estimated the players will be playing for $40 million in purse money, down $24 million from this year. It doesn’t take a Harvard MBA to see the issue here.

There were four American players that won tournaments on The LPGA Tour so far this year. Players from Asia accounted for eleven wins on the tour this season. Golf, and ladies golf in Asia is unbelievably popular and the environment is right for a bigger presence in Asia by the tour. The tour already starts its season with international venues. It could add tournaments in Japan, South Korea, China, and Thailand in the early part of the season then continue its schedule in North America over the summer months as it does now. After a swing into Europe and some more “homeland” stops they could have another Asian stretch before they finish with The Tour Championship on home soil. This proposed schedule is very similar to what the tour does now. The new schedule would need to condense the North American events so there would be available dates in the start of the season and at the end. With only 23-25 events expected next year, there are plenty of dates to work with.

This reconfigured tour will require some adjustments form the players and the tour, but this is a battle for survival. It is kind of like when you graduate from college and go looking for a job. You go where the money is and right now the potential for sponsorship money is in Asia.

So, the new commissioner should brush up on some Japanese and study Chinese business customs. The players can pack their bags, get ready for a slight change in diet and find a few good interpreters. The LPGA has a great product to sell. It’s time the LPGA got serious about overseas expansion and realized that they have the formula for a truly international tour.


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