Marketing will lead to equity

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:59 AM ET

Please, ma'am, we want more.

More Natalie Gulbis. More Morgan Pressel. More Lorie Kane.

More players with personality, looks and talent and the understanding that it isn't a crime to sell all three.

Seize the day with its heightened visibility, high-profile players and increased marketability.

In the end, it will a lead to the ultimate goal of the LPGA, marketing its product to sponsors and television so purses increase and players get benefits that include pensions and medical coverage.

Selling the Canadian Women's Open in London is not the toughest of tasks. London is famous for making one-time, high-profile events a great success. The euphoria of staging a major event is all about watching skilled golfers ply their trade on a nice golf course in wonderful weather.

Most fans don't know -- and probably don't care -- that LPGA players are without a pension plan or health insurance. Hockey players have those benefits, as do baseball players, football players and PGA players.

But for years, the LPGA has lagged behind other sports when it came to business success because the association lacked star power and a marketing image.

That's changed. Talent has a lot do with it. There's more of it, especially young talent.

And it's attractive talent -- something that's no longer taboo to talk about.

Gulbis is one of the poster women for the new LPGA. She's comfortable on the golf course and comfortable doing a photo shoot. She's comfortable with the image she wants to project.

"When I came out the first year, I tested the waters a little bit with the calendar and just with a whole bunch of different things," Gulbis said. "I think now with sports, our players are not afraid to be attractive and to be athletic and to be really good too."

Aggressive and confident. It's what the LPGA needs. It's what it's getting.

Carolyn Bivens is the LPGA commissioner. She has rattled a few cages since taking over this year. She's aggressive, confident and intends to drag the LPGA as close to parity with the PGA as possible.

"If I didn't think the LPGA could get much closer to equity, with specifically men's golf, I never would have taken this job," Bivens said. "Corporations invest on the basis of return on investment. While we don't have the audience that is the size of the PGA, our trend lines are so much in the right direction. We are up 65 per cent on network television. That's unheard of in the world of television.

"What we have to do is convert interest in women's golf into benefits that (put) elite athletes in the world they belong. Everything from decent retirement plan, health care, that's not offered to any of our members."

With the sport on an upswing, with marketable and watchable players, with strong television ratings, it means no more taking whatever is left over by other sports. It means no more participating in tournaments for the sake of filling a date, whether those tournaments prove profitable or not.

If everyone else is making money, why shouldn't the players benefit? That's Bivens' point and it's the direction tour players want her to go.

"That means building new streams of revenue, owning and operating a few more of our own tournaments, being successful in licensing and merchandising, developing new ways of making money," Bivens said.

"It's imperative we do it now when the interest is high."

The LPGA has a lot to work with. Its pros could give lessons to other athletes on selling their product.

"These women are proving for the first time that you can be among the best athletes in the world and also be a woman," Bivens said.

"I love it when Natalie Gulbis walks up on the tee. She looks like a million bucks. She puts the ball on the tee. She winds it up and creams the ball 280 yards down the fairway. It inspires a lot of women and girls to say, 'You know what? I want to look like her. I want to be like her. I want a life like hers.' That's a good thing. And let's face it, it's not just young girls who come out to watch Natalie."

Or a dozen others with a lot to offer.


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