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Golf Sports

It’s Time Someone is Honest About the LPGA

If you spend even a second in golf Twitter, advocates for women’s golf paint a grim picture of a patriarchal system in golf, where the PGA exists solely to destroy any progress for the growth of women’s golf. 

It would seem as though the LPGA and PGA are competitors and the PGA relishes in suffocating the ladies’ hopes to gain viewership. 

But then, a beautiful thing happens. You put your phone in your pocket, and the endless timeline of fear-mongering and virtue signaling that go along with it, and you live your life. 

Things aren’t that bad. 

Annika Sorenstam has $40 million in the bank, Lexi Thompson drives a souped up GT-R, and Paula Creamer owns a Birkin Bag which costs tens of thousands of dollars. All with checks straight from women’s golf.

Paula Creamer

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Much like the PGA tour, life is good for top LPGA players. To an extent though, I agree that a conversation needs to be had about getting women’s golf on the same level as the men. I say that without any sort of agenda, other than the fact that I love golf. I watch it all day, every day, and still I want more. I keep up with the PGA, LPGA, Euro, PGALA, the Web, NCAA, amateur events, and all the Monday qualifying news and despite all this, I do believe that the LPGA doesn’t get the coverage it’s talented players deserve. We need to be realistic and honest about why things are as they are and how we plan to get to the next level.

You can see the true colors of the complainers. It’s people who constantly whine that the media platform and pay needs to be equal to men’s golf without any legitimate reasoning or solution other than saying “it’s only fair.” They don’t think past their own personally held beliefs and Twitter discussions, more often than not, devolve into pathetic displays of cognitive dissonance, ignoring facts and continuing to push ideas that would drag the PGA down instead of lifting the LPGA up. At the center of all of these arguments exists one of the most insufferable types of people on the internet. Enter the LPGA white knight. It’s usually a middle aged man who watches the LPGA while subconsciously hoping for a wardrobe malfunction and they tweet endlessly in hopes of approval from their LPGA player of choice in between re-tweeting Sports Illustrated Swimsuit pictures and baby boomer political takes. 

The Numbers

I would be just as bad as the people calling for immediate equal payouts if I didn’t give some context here as to what is exactly going on with viewership numbers. That’s the only way to find the heart of the problem and offer up a solution. 

In 2018, Sunday’s final round coverage of the US Women’s Open had a 0.6 rating and 878,000 viewers. This year, the men’s PGA Championship had a rating of 3.3 and 5.01 million viewers. Both were on major networks, with the women’s tournament on Fox and the men’s on CBS. Those ratings were the highest of the year in women’s golf, but it was only the seventh highest for the men on the season. So on an equal platform, we’re talking about more than 4 times the viewership for men and women. 

In 2013, the PGA brought in $1.075 billion in revenue, while the women brought in $102.8 million in revenue. The argument for immediate payouts to equal the men practically ends there. It’s just not possible to pay out $8 million purses every single week to the women if they only generate one hundred million dollars in revenue. So unless the PGA were to gift the PGA some of its revenue (I feel silly even suggesting that, but it has been mentioned in the annals of the internet), it’s simply not feasible. 

The men’s US Open purse in 2019 was $12.5 million and the women’s purse was $5.5 million. Percentage wise, I don’t have the exact breakdown to find out if those numbers are equal or not, but considering that the PGA’s revenue is over ten times the women’s, it may even be higher for the women. 

So Whose Job is it Anyway?

So we’ve entered a situation where the women aren’t receiving equal pay, but it’s not in any way close to a situation where a man makes $60,000 a year and a woman makes $52,000 as some corporate 9-5er doing the same job. We’re talking about real world economics. The question then becomes, whose job is it to grow women’s golf? The players, the LPGA, networks, and sponsors are the acting parties in this situation and they act as rationally as one does in these circumstances. But let’s break down each one individually: 

Players

Generally, when a worker has a compensation grievance, they believe that their pay isn’t commensurate with the work they do. Factors which drive the value of what makes a wage fair are highly complex for the average person who works a 40 hour week and wants a livable wage. However, when we’re talking about professional athletes, there’s a totally different situation. At face value, should hitting a golf ball for a living ever be worth being able to afford private jets, supercars, and multiple houses? Probably not when you compare that effort that goes in to the effort and pay of literally any other job on earth. To an extent, I’m sure the players are extremely happy with the payouts. The issue arises when players are winning multiple majors on the LPGA, but they look over the fence at PGA players and see that they make the same amount as a middle of the road guy who may have never even won on tour. The idea of “I deserve more money” comes strictly from a comparative standpoint, not from any argument that playing golf should earn you a high living. If that were the case, 20 year club pros would be protesting in the streets. Players owe it to themselves to advocate for their own pay and keep an eye on the percentages they are being paid relative to the tour’s revenue, but anything past that shouldn’t have to lie on their shoulders.

Networks

We’ve entered an interesting time where news and media outlets are no longer just the messengers. They can push agendas and make themselves a part of the story, but at the end of the day, they provide a product. They answer to the desires of their customers and they can only show what they are given and what they think will get eyeballs on their channel. Playing women’s golf coverage if it doesn’t draw an audience would be counterintuitive. 

Sponsors

This is the most rational actor in the entire equation. Sponsors are exactly what their name implies. They write big checks to get their product to as many people as they can. They make offers to the LPGA based on what they think they can get out of the deal. It needs to be mutually beneficial. It’s as simple as that. Sponsors owe absolutely nothing to women’s golf or even golf in general. They act to help their own brand and their employees. 

The LPGA

By the process of elimination, it’s probably pretty obvious that the LPGA is responsible for growing women’s golf. They must find the best platforms, the best venues, and the best strategy to get a good return for sponsors, keep players happy, and grow themselves from a business sense. A problem that can exist with organizations like the LPGA is when they get comfortable with the status quo. Again, at face value, they’re making $100 million a season thanks to a game. Sports are silly if you think about it. Although it’s dwarfed by the PGA’s success, that’s not exactly chump change. If their players are millionaires, Michael Whan (LPGA commissioner) makes $966,742 a year, and their model has longevity, is there even an incentive to want to grow? Why take risks if what you have is working, even if it pales in comparison to the PGA tour. At what point is the growth considered successful? Do they need to match the PGA? Surpass it? There’s no hard answer. It’s all a market potential eyeball test and a vague set of expectations because the LPGA’s primary duty is to keep fans, golfers, and the golf industry happy while protecting their revenue.

The Solution

Since we’ve identified the issue, found who is responsible and who is affected, it’s time to find the solution. Because there is no real measure for what makes the LPGA successful, I’d argue the real measure of success is when we can get everyone to shut the fuck up about inequality. Of course, that will never happen. As long as the social and political beliefs of fans with a Twitter account can seep into the discussion, it will always be grounds for a proxy war of thought. 

Women’s golf has the potential to be a fantastic product. The women are great players, the tournaments are exciting and best of all, it’s more golf to watch. I would argue that there’s no problem with the state of the LPGA and I would only begin to panic when we women who have tremendous talent giving up the game because they don’t find it lucrative. We are lightyears past that scenario, so I guess as a compromise, I would just like to offer up some ways to optimize the system to help bump up the LPGA. 

Stop following the PGA’s model

Women’s golf and men’s golf are two different things. Just because they play the same game, it doesn’t mean they should have the same standard, goals, or metrics of success. In 2019 for example, Tiger’s comeback drove some of the highest ratings in Masters history, while a lack of American names on the LPGA leaderboard is arguably hurting American viewership. They are completely independent of each other. The phrase ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’ doesn’t apply as linearly to the PGA and LPGA as some would lead you to believe. 

These gimmicky moves from the LPGA, like insisting on playing ‘golf’s first major’ the week before the Masters does nothing to help. In fact, it may pit the two against each other.

Inviting LPGA players like Brittany Lincicome to play PGA events is another stunt that doesn’t help. Brittany is an incredible golfer, but a driving distance of 271 yards puts her in 15th on the LPGA and would make her the 203rd on the PGA tour. I’m not a neandrethal who believes that driving distance is the only thing that matters, but it would put anyone way behind the curve, regardless of gender. She missed the cut in the PGA’s Barbasol Championship event last year and all that does is give detractors an opportunity to say ‘I told ya so.’

 

There is a push to get a simultaneous event with PGA and LPGA players at the same time, but I’m not even sure how that would work. Could we see 300 players on a course or two courses at the same time, exacerbating the chief complaint on both tours of slow play? 

I find that these copycat moves fail to establish a strong identity for the LPGA and make it seem like we as fans need to choose between watching one of the products instead of saying that we should watch both. That issue doesn’t exist as strongly in sports like NCAA vs NFL football and NCAA basketball and the NBA, nor is there such a gripe between the PGA and the European Tour.

Get Creative With Platforms

A huge complaint we see is that the Golf Channel limits coverage of the LPGA. Again, they are a business. If they were to show LPGA coverage and it flopped, continuing to do so would be an act of charity, detrimental to the network’s bottom line. On the deepest parts of golf Twitter, this assertion earns a reply of “so… they should still do it.” I would ask why a proponent of the LPGA would even want that. Why wouldn’t women want their product to make money and be seen as lucrative? 

I concede that low ratings for women’s golf are indicative of the fact that coverage is a rarity. You can’t just throw women’s golf on a major network five times a year, when it’s foreign to most casual viewers, and expect it to do numbers. I wonder why the Golf Channel is seen as the end all, be all of golf platforms. Is it because it has golf in the name? If the LPGA were creative, they could get women’s golf on TBS, TNT, Lifetime, any network that plays NCAA basketball once a year during March Madness and grow from there. If you knock the coverage out of the park, it will eventually make it on major networks. This idea would probably be met with complaints that it would be hard to find, but sports fans don’t need to be spoon fed. As any fan of rugby, lacrosse, or even American Premier League fans, if you put it on TV, they will find it. 

The cry for increased Golf Channel coverage means that LPGA fans want to take away PGA coverage and replace it with LPGA golf. Instead of a desire to grow the PGA and the LPGA concurrently, they would be happy with some sort of private business socialism. It’s unrealistic and sad. 

As much as I suggest not following the PGA tour’s lead, they have been highly successful with PGA Tour Live, a streaming service which shows full coverage of PGA events for a paid subscription. I find it strange that the LPGA hasn’t launched something similar when so many people claim to be such huge fans of women’s golf. It seems like an untapped market. 

Even as I write this, I wonder why, instead of complaining that major media outlets won’t cover and show women’s golf, there aren’t bloggers and smaller sports media brands who aren’t applying for media credentials and doing the work themselves. If the coverage doesn’t exist, and there is a market for it as they all claim, I would be at every event getting interviews and posting them to website as the source for everything LPGA. That’s not how these people think, though. It’s far easier to complain than actually do something about it than actually get to work and potentially cash in while making a name for yourself. 

While Twitter users may say that it’s all doom and gloom, there are actually are media outlets embracing the women. No Laying Up and Erik Anders Lang have done interviews with LPGA stars like Michelle Wie, Cheyenne Woods, Bronte Law, and Danielle Kang. They were all delightful. They had incredible insight, they were entertaining, and I was turned into a fan immediately. These interviews may have been the exception for these shows, but it proves that the market is wide open for someone to come in and create the coverage.

Embrace Your Globalness

The LPGA is far more global than the PGA. The leaderboard is full of players from different countries each week. This means a few things. First, there will be a language barrier. These women are paid to play golf, and quite frankly, they don’t owe it to a single person to make themselves marketable to anyone. However, if we look at other women’s sports with global reach like tennis and UFC, there is always a translator on hand and media members who do the work to create the personality and stories of each woman. In embracing globalness, it creates a situation ripe with the opportunity to make international events like majors, the Solheim Cup, and the Olympics much bigger than the similar events in men’s golf. Instead, it feels like the LPGA and media is totally incompetent at bringing these women into the fold. 

Creating an Image

This is a combination of a few points. Stop following the PGA but embrace globalness, but there are a few other concepts. For one, sex sells. I say that to give a bit of shock value, but in this opinion, we’re being completely honest. Conversely, at nearly every PGA tournament I’ve been to, I’ve heard women say shockingly sexual things about PGA players and that they are there to check out the players. The vast majority of men watch women’s golf, so it’s beneficial to find what appeals to them. A part of it, good, bad, or indifferent, is that they like watching pretty women tee it up. If this comes across as chauvinistic, just realize that there is a lingerie football league that is celebrating its ten year anniversary this year. 

I’m not suggesting that we have a bikini matchplay, nor would I ever suggest that we sexualize these women who are on tour to play golf, but discussions about skirt length and dress code need to go away or be handled much more quietly. Incorporating fashion like the men have could be a huge draw and allowing women to express themselves through their clothing could help immensely. Of course, caution should be taken because it’s a slippery slope to glorifying the objectification of women, but the players should absolutely be able to play in what makes them comfortable and confident.

I think the LPGA has an identity problem that can’t be addressed because doing so will always be criticized as sexist. But there still lies a problem because the LPGA wants so badly to say ‘hey, we’re just as good as the men.’ No one has ever asked that question and even presenting it leads us down a rabbit hole of arguing that accomplishes nothing. It’s a self-inflicted wound to even do such a thing. The simplest answer would be to say that the LPGA is made up of the best female golfers in the world, completely free from any comparison to the men. The question then becomes, what does it mean to be a top female golfer? I would say they need to embrace the globalness aspect of things. It seriously is the best women in the world teeing it up each week from every country and age. If they can establish a strong, clear image, it becomes a more digestible concept for casual fans to want to watch. 

The next wave of women’s golfers are on their way. The ANWA and the NCAA championships have given us a great look into what’s next. Maria Fassi, Haley Moore, and Jennifer Kupcho have shown us that they are ready to play and have the potential to be some of the biggest stars in sports if the LPGA does it right. This will be the biggest testament of how the LPGA is doing at cultivating their image. 

No Need to Panic

Women’s golf is fine. The internet can create a microcosm of panic and discussion simply because it’s so easy to weigh in on a subject that people know nothing about. To make matters worse, the anonymity of it gives the same voice to a 20 handicap who has never been to a pro event in their life as someone who works inside the ropes every week at events.

If your intentions are pure, that you truly wish to see the LPGA grow, and it’s uninhibited by the current social and political climate, I think you’ll see that the future is bright. Women’s golf is better than ever, even if I am nervous for the next Solheim Cup. 

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