Question and answer with LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan
Where is the LPGA in your mind today?
“I think it’s in a state of rebound. We’re like a lot of small business in the last four or five years. We went through a tough 2009 and 2010. A lot of companies pulled back their sponsorships, especially their sports sponsorships. As I’ve told our players and our staff, there are two kinds of companies in 2013. There are companies that have gotten a lot smarter and a lot more customer-focused than they were. And there are companies that aren’t with us anymore. We’re a lot smarter, a lot more focused on the person that signs the check than we’ve been in our 62-year history.”
Your tournament numbers are growing. Talk about that.
“We went from 23 tournaments a year ago to 27 tournaments now and $7 million more in purse money for our players. Our viewership was up almost 40 percent last year in North American events and our viewership in 2012 is up another 25 percent. It’s cool to see what’s happening with our fan base. It’s not only been a business rebound, but a fan interest rebound.”
What’s the biggest task you face?
“I think it’s the same task that’s probably been with the LPGA for 62 years, which is making sure we have the business partners that give us the ability to showcase the best golfers in the world and to provide more opportunities and employment for our membership. If we want better business partners, I always say be better business partners with the ones you have. The challenge for us is to make sure the current business partners we’re in business with respect the value. The current sponsors appreciate what you’re doing for them and that’s led to more sponsorships.”
What’s the best part of your job?
“I have a lot of friends and neighbors who have good jobs and have good pay. They don’t mind what they’re doing, but I don’t think they feel a personal passion for whatever they’re selling or marketing. Every day when you drive home, you know it matters. We always talk around (LPGA headquarters) that we are holding the baton and running around the track for our years, but some day we’re going to have to hand the baton to the next group. Our job is to make sure we have a greater lead on the competition than when we were handed the job. I believe in 5, 10, 15 years, they will say ‘They raised the bar pretty high.’ Now, we have to do that.”
Do you see continued growth in the number of tournaments?
“We’re going to grow in quality versus quantity. I’m not a big believer in 39 or 40 tournaments. The top players in the world don’t play that much and I don’t want to be the person sitting across the table from title sponsors apologizing for the field. Thirty to 33 is about the right number, so that means we have three or four to add to put us in our sweet spot.”
As the schedule grows, is there a chance the tour will come back to Charleston or to South Carolina?
“There are definitely lines in the water. (South Carolina) is a market we’ve looked at and thought maybe we were closer than we were. It starts with the person who’s going to write the check and make it a hometown, community event. Until we find the lead player, it’s hard to put the other pieces around it. There’s certainly an interest on our part and an interest in some other third parties, but nothing is penciled on the schedule as we speak.”
Compiled by Tommy Braswell