It’s that time of year! The start of the 2013 LPGA season is quickly approaching and as we count down the days until the year’s first event, our eyes are focused on “What to Watch” for the upcoming season. So over the next two weeks on LPGA.com, we will take a glimpse at some of the top storylines on the LPGA Tour for 2013. Today’s storyline…Carrying Momentum
LPGA Carries Momentum Into 2013
Expanding. Growing. Excitement. Momentum.
Four simple words used by national media members to describe the LPGA in 2013.
Ask Commissioner Mike Whan to describe the current state of the LPGA Tour with one word and he chooses “rising.”
With more tournaments, more prize money, double-digit growth in television viewership and social media following, and the most tournament television hours in Tour history this season, he seems to be on track.
Whan has seen the Tour schedule grow from 23 events in 2010, the year he began as Commissioner, to 28 this season with new events in the Bahamas, North Texas and China. Over the past two years, television viewership on Golf Channel has grown by 70 percent.
But he is quick to explain why the LPGA has enjoyed such global momentum of late.
“As Commissioner, you probably get more credit than you should,” Whan said. “But there is zero doubt that our players are the ones selling the LPGA. It probably took me a year to truly appreciate that, but our stars get it and I don’t have to ask them to do much. More than likely they are already doing it.”
Case in point, last week’s International Crown launch press conference – the largest LPGA announcement in recent memory – where the top three players from the Rolex Rankings and the top-ranked Spaniard all agreed to give the Tour 90 minutes of their time for the announcement. More specifically, 90 minutes during the busy PGA Merchandise Show, in the offseason, when each player is focused on getting their game ready for 2013.
What might seem like a simple thing is actually a complicated scheduling endeavor, but each of the four players was quick to say “yes” in lending a hand to the Tour’s biggest press conference in recent memory.
“We’re very fortunate right now to have players who completely understand the importance of ‘opportunity’ as it relates to exposure and Tour awareness,” said LPGA Chief Communications Officer Kraig Kann. “ Big stars need to be a part of the big stage when we build it and they’re doing that. And what’s really fun to watch is the number of players now raising their hand and saying ‘I’m in too if you need me.’ That’s a trend that really helps our business.”
On the golf course, pro-ams and sponsor outings are often the catalyst for new business on the LPGA Tour, and as Whan says, “you won’t find athletes who are more approachable and customer-focused than our players.”
The LPGA, like other businesses and organizations, felt the effects of the economic downturn around the time Whan took over as Commissioner. The Tour had to fine tune its business model and offer better value to existing partners.
“When the economy struggles, the first thing businesses eliminate is customer entertainment, and quite frankly, that’s what hurt us the most a few years ago,” Whan said. “But we see the trend changing and that favors the LPGA because I know we provide the best customer experience in sports.”
Steady growth of the LPGA’s partnership portfolio and fan base has helped to improve television ratings on Golf Channel and clicks to LPGA.com and the Tour’s social media networks. Together with the expanding tournament schedule and available prize money, and the increasing number of corporate partnerships, the Tour has evidence to back up its momentum.
Since 2011, the LPGA has seen a 74 percent increase in social media following, helped in part by the decision to put players’ Twitter handles on caddie bibs in 2012. More than 1.6 million people track the LPGA on a variety of social networks including Twitter, where Golf’s Global Tour saw a 113 percent increase in followings in 2012.
Despite the LPGA’s expansion, Whan remains unsatisfied.
“It might be a personality flaw, but I’m not satisfied with where we are yet,” he said. “We still have room to grow our playing opportunities, and when we do that, we have plenty of work to do in giving our players the most exposure possible.”
Add exposure to the list of words Whan hopes to use in describing the LPGA a year from now.