The LPGA is thriving. Under the leadership of Commissioner Mike Whan, the tour has seen an increase in coverage, attendance, viewership, and sponsorship.
In 2010, the tour received only 100 hours of produced TV, with 65 percent of it airing live. This season, there will be a total of 500 hours of women’s golf, with 90 percent of it live. More importantly, the women are playing for more money than ever, competing for a total of $70 million this season, up from $61 million in 2015.
The steady rise of the LPGA isn’t surprising given the tour’s international reach, improving quality of play, and greater competitive parity each season. More recently, the tour has established a position as a women’s sports organization that can empower and inspire future generations of girls. This season, its #DriveOn series has explored players’ stories. Part of the goal is to offer insight into who the players are, while continuously showcasing the fact that the tour is filled with phenomenal women, giving us more of a reason to cheer for these women individually and collectively.
The women’s game is progressing, but when you look at the tour’s corporate sponsors, one thing is missing: the leadership of these corporations is largely male-dominated. Of the LPGA tour’s 27 corporate sponsors, only four have women CEOs.
When you break it down to the 33 companies that sponsor individual tournaments, only one woman (Lynne Doughtie, CEO of KPMG) leads the company sponsoring the tournament.
As the LPGA continues to build an identity as a tour for and about women and girls, a focus on building partnerships with female-founded companies and companies run by female CEOs should be a priority. Whether these companies become tournament sponsors, partners, or sponsor experiential events at the tournament, joining forces with more companies that have female leadership will help embolden the LPGA’s mission.
By venturing out from under golf’s traditional sponsorship umbrellas (financial institutions and auto insurance companies), the tour could perhaps explore relationships with companies that have an established female customer base, and who appeal to a much younger demographic.
Take, for instance, Bumble. The company started as a dating app but has since launched two other apps called BumbleBizz (networking for business professionals) and BumbleBFF (a friend finder). The Company’s CEO, Whitney Wolfe Herd, has established herself among millennial women as someone to look up to in business, and her company has already expressed an interest in the sports space. This past year, Bumble partnered with Serena Williams for the Super Bowl, and sponsored a patch with the LA Clippers. In addition, Bumble launched the Bumble Fund; a venture capital firm focused on investing in female-founded companies.
Or there’s The Wing. Founded by and run by Audrey Gelman, The Wing has created women-only co-working spaces. In the short time since its founding, the Wing has raised $75 million and opened office spaces in NYC, San Francisco, D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles with more spaces planned for Toronto, Boston, London, and Seattle. This haven for women has proven to tap into a demographic seeking to give women a comfortable place to network and grow their businesses. And since we often discuss how learning golf is a great way for women to make connections, wouldn’t it make sense for the tour to partner with a company like The Wing?
Consider Away Luggage, which was founded by two women and run by Steph Korey. This past year, the company was valued at $1.4 billion. And since LPGA golfers travel more than thirty weeks a year, doesn’t a partnership with a sleek travel company started by women have a nice synergy to it?
The tour is filled with women who are into fashion, so a partnership with a company like Rent the Runway – with a valuation of $1 billion and founded by Jennifer Hyman – could help solidify the tour as modern and trendy.
What these four companies have in common is a proven ability to tap into a demographic that the LPGA absolutely needs to connect with: millennial women. Diversifying its sponsorship base outside of what is often associated with old and stodgy, could help the LPGA Tour solidify itself as a forward-thinking organization with a vested interest in attracting a new generation of fans and supporters.
These companies are just a small sampling of modern brands founded by women and connected with women dynamically. So, as the tour continues to grow, perhaps it should start looking outside the box for sponsors and partners that can help build and cement new relationships
And no, this isn’t a criticism of the current sponsors. I’m happy to see that so many large corporations and businesses support the LPGA, but it’s time for the tour to extend its reach by aligning with companies that have focused on women from the get-go.
As a mantra that has been stated over the last couple years, #TheFutureisFemale – this includes businesses founded by women, and if the LPGA wants to connect with the future, it’s time to partner with those for whom the future is now.