New commissioner puts focus on impact, not incomeWritten by Michael Stainbrook | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A year after some of the LPGA Tour’s best golfers gathered in Toledo to call for change, the LPGA is getting down to business—literally.
During the 2009 Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, 15 tour members met at Mancy’s Italian Grill on Monroe Street to discuss tour business. The group then drafted a letter to the LPGA Board of Directors calling for commissioner Carolyn Bivens to step down.
“It was a perfect storm,” said current commissioner Michael Whan. “It was a tough time with charities and charitable giving. The LPGA didn’t have any exemption from it.”
Dropped sponsorships plagued the former commissioner, who had poor relationships with many sponsors. She also promoted a controversial plan to require English as the tour’s predominant language.
Bivens resigned July 13 and was replaced on an interim basis. After a three-month hunt, the LPGA Search Committee chose Whan for the job.
A former executive for various sports equipment companies, Whan spent all of November and December adapting to his new role. He officially began Jan. 4.
The change in leadership did not solve all the tour’s problems. A below-average economy and skeptical sponsors have made recovery a slow process that does not always yield financial results. “I found out pretty early in my tenure that this is not a business I’m going to run based on its bottom-line profitability,” Whan said.
The LPGA is focused on its partnership with its sponsors, making Whan the right man for the job.
“I’ve been on the other side. I’ve been a sponsor … that’s been my most valuable asset.”
Whan operates under the notion of “role reversal.” He aims to put control into the sponsor’s hands with the goal of building a tournament that best suits the host’s needs.
“If you want to be a successful business partner, you have to think and act like the other side,” he said.
To advance this initiative, the commissioner has made a couple of changes in how the LPGA runs. At every tournament, players are given a two-page customer profile sheet outlining the sponsor’s business and objectives for the weekend. The handouts sometimes even provide players with a sample positive comment for when media personnel ask about the tournament. Whan is also working with the LPGA Tournament Owners Association to address “five or six key things” that would improve the value of each event. Amateur-professional experiences and media relations with the sponsor are also focal points in the commissioner’s plan.
“We’re willing to build the tournament you need, not the tournament we need,” he said. “If we’re going to have 30 tournaments, those tournaments are going to be about the sponsor.”
But as of now, the tour has 25 events on the calendar for 2010.
“At the end of the day, my goal is to play more official tournaments than we did in 2010,” Whan said. “We haven’t started talking much about the 2011 schedule because it takes on more focus than the 2010 schedule.”
Nor is there much mention about the PGA around women’s golf. Although the men’s schedule is more robust and the tournaments have larger purses, Whan wants to keep the focus on the LPGA.
“I don’t use the PGA tour as a benchmark,” he said. “I don’t know their business that well. I’m sure their business partners have different goals.”
“Sometimes we can put too much focus on what everyone else is doing, but the LPGA will have success following its own business model.”
One area of focus the commissioner is paying attention to is the game’s international appeal.
The LPGA’s 126 international players hail from 28 countries.