Monday, July 13, 2009

Where does the LPGA go from here?

Wanted: A new commissioner for the LPGA.

Requirements: Save a sinking tour in a bad economy without the help of many instantly recognizable American stars.

While the official announcement of the end of Carolyn Bivens' era is expected sometime this week, it's clear the LPGA has already begun looking for someone to steer a ship in peril.

The names of Judy Rankin, Nancy Lopez and Dottie Pepper have been tossed out but it may be someone from the business world who gets called in to help stabilize the process.

Former Bank of America sports marketing official Dockery Clark, who pulled off the brilliant move of getting Annika Sorenstam to play the PGA Tour stop at Colonial a few years ago, was rumored to be a candidate when Bivens was hired and with her sports background (she's worked at Miller beer most recently) she would likely have some strong ideas about how to reposition the LPGA Tour.

It's a tough job. Bivens' aggressive style was intended to secure higher rights fees for tour events. But as the economy weakened, so did the LPGA's position and Bivens' various missteps became more pronounced.

The situation is complicated by the fact the American presence -- both in events and top players -- has diminished. Several long-time tour stops have been lost and, in a worst-case scenario, there could be as few as 10 LPGA events in the U.S. next year. That's not exactly building your brand at home.

While Eun Hee Ji won the Women's Open with a dramatic birdie on the 72nd hole Sunday, the absence of top Americans in contention was a reminder the tour is lacking a compelling set of stars right now.

Just a couple of years ago, the LPGA seemed ready to soar but until Michelle Wie starts winning, Paula Creamer proves she's as good as her marketing and another couple of players emerge, the tour lacks some sizzle. There are some terrific players, Jiyai Shin could be the best down the road, but it's a tough time right now.

Lorena Ochoa is one of the best of any generation but she doesn't move the needle the way Tiger or Phil Mickleson does.

Women's professional golf is a niche sport inside a niche sport. It's a tough sell in good times and a tougher sell right now.

The top players made it clear they're ready for a change at the top. That was the first step.

Where the tour goes from here is the question.


Anonymous said...

Women's professional sports will always, always, always be on the back burner. Unless the LPGA has some crazy ideas of turning it more risque (which it shouldn't), it will always be a flop. Who wants to watch a bunch of Asian chicks beat up on our not-hot Americans? It's a doomed sport, especially in these times.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Bivens was probably right on the English language issue. Ms Li was unable to do anything but grin and say "thank you" during her post-match interview on Sunday. Hard to see how LPGA is going to win over the American public with mostly foreign born and non-English speaking players dominating.