SBD/27/Sports Industrialists

LPGA'S MECHEM LOOKS BACK ON TENURE, AHEAD TO TOUR'S FUTURE

     At the end of this year, LPGA Commissioner Charles Mechem
will step down ending a five-year reign at the helm of women's
professional golf.  Mecham leaves with a 38-event schedule and
$24M in purses, up from 37 and $18.4M in '91.  In addition, the
LPGA now has an all-time high of 29 licensees and 26 national TV
appearances.  Mechem spoke with THE SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY this
week, assessing his tenure and the future of the LPGA.  Excerpts
follow:
     THE DAILY:  Looking back on your five years as commissioner,
what accomplishments were most significant?  And are there any
goals which have gone unfinished?
     MECHEM:  The accomplishments kind of fall into a couple of
categories -- those that are quantifiable and those that aren't.
In the quantifiable category, purse increases have been pretty
dramatic in the last five years.  By the time I finish they'll be
up almost 50% from where I started, up to around $25 million.  We
have added about 35 new companies to the LPGA either as sponsors
or as licensees, now that's not to suggest we haven't lost any
because we have lost some too.  We've added far more than we've
lost.  The depth and quality of the talent on tour is
dramatically greater and deeper than it was.  Those are the kind
of things you can see and add up.  Every bit as important as
those, and maybe more important in the long run, is the mood and
the feeling and the attitude of the Tour and those who follow it.
It's a very upbeat attitude now, the players feel very positive,
they feel very strongly about their future and success that lies
ahead of them. ... As far as unaccomplished goals, nothing really
of any great consequence.  I would have liked to have added a
couple more events in the early part of our year, and I may do
that yet before I'm done.
     THE DAILY:  What are the top priorities facing your
successor?
     MECHEM:   We need to continue to add events.  We need to
continue to get prize money up.  Although we've made a lot of
progress, we still have a lot to do in the area of additional
television coverage, which is extremely important.  The time for
the development of a mini-tour, a developmental tour, has about
arrived on the LPGA Tour.  I have not felt that it was critical
in the last several years, although I think it will be in the
next five years.  Then, very honestly, to continue to attack and
break down, if you will, the continuing reluctance on the part of
some companies and some individuals to embrace women's sports.
     THE DAILY:  Assess the LPGA's TV presence.
     MECHEM:  It's better this year by a long shot than it has
ever been before and there are several reasons for that.  Number
one, twelve of our events this year are on the new Golf Channel,
so that gives us a dramatically increased television presence as
a result of it being around 90 hours of coverage.  In addition to
that, all four of our major events this year -- the Championship,
the Open, the Dinah, and the du Maurier -- will be televised on
all four days of their playing, and that's never happened.  In
addition, several of our events have expanded their network
coverage and then we've got something like 15 or so more hours of
cable TV coverage on ESPN and Prime than we had last year.  So,
all in all, we're moving in the right direction.  The arrangement
that we have is a very positive one.  Obviously, the degree to
which the Golf Channel succeeds is critical to us, probably more
important to us than the other tours because of the number of
events that we're having covered.  That will take a few years to
sort that out, but assuming the Golf Channel makes it, and I
firmly believe it will, then I think this is a good arrangement.
     THE DAILY:  What was your strategy for attracting new
sponsors?
     MECHEM:  We are not trying to compete with the men's tour.
We don't go out and say we're better than the men's tour or we're
better than the Senior Tour, we basically say that women's golf
is growing, the depth of the quality of talent is growing
rapidly.  We have perhaps the most outgoing, warm, personable,
attractive athletes in professional sports, and we have a tour
where the talent is better every year because of the growth of
women's golf.  So I say very honestly that you can get an event
of the women's tour and enjoy virtually all the benefits you get
on the men's tour in terms of the pro-am and all the rest -- and,
you can also merchandise and market the fact that you are
supporting a women's professional organization.  On top of all
that, we play for smaller purses which I don't mean is good, but
it means the sponsors can have an event on the women's tour for
less money.
     THE DAILY:  What are some of the things that the Tour is
doing to help sponsors leverage their investment?
     MECHEM:  We do a couple of things.  First -- and maybe it's
the syndrome of being number two and working hard to grow -- we
encourage our players, and I think with pretty considerable
success, to work hard to give the sponsor the value received in
terms of the way they interact on the golf course:  their
attitude in the pro-ams, their availability to the media, their
availability to the sponsors for special events, and all the
things that regrettably are kind of going the other way in
professional sports.  We're very anxious to be looked upon as
athletes who are approachable and remember who is paying the
bill.  The other thing is to  say to sponsors, if you sponsor an
LPGA event, you not only get the golf but you have an opportunity
to market in a very visible way the fact that you are supporting
a women's professional organization.  Do that with your employee
work force, do that with your customer base, do it through the
media, and so on.  Increasingly, companies are doing that.
     THE DAILY:  What is the LPGA doing to take advantage of the
growing interest in golf among women executives?
     MECHEM:  We cooperate with Gillette in sponsoring 16 events,
called Gillette Executive Women's Golf Clinics.  These are done
all around the country and these are ways to introduce executive
women into the world of golf, with LPGA help, to get women into
using golf in their career development.  These events are
absolute sellouts everywhere.  They normally involve 200 to 300
women for a day.  We started out a few years ago with six or
eight, and then they grew to ten, then 12, and now 16, and the
skies the limit.  We now have something over 50 junior golf
programs around the country of one form or another and that's our
way of getting the LPGA imprint, if you will, on the minds of
young women when they start playing the game.  We cooperate as
intensely as we can with the executive women's golf leagues which
now serve thousands of women all over the U.S.
     THE DAILY:  There seems to be two views on promoting sports
-- either sell the game or sell the stars.  Where should the LPGA
fall on this question?  And are there emerging stars who can
carry the tour, enough U.S. stars?
     MECHEM:  We can really sell both because with women's golf
growing, and for that matter golf in general growing, we'd be
foolish not to sell ourselves as golfers, completely apart from
the women's aspect of it.  In other words, we're part of a fast
growing sport.  But on top of that, we've got some very very
attractive and exciting young players and players that have been
around for a long time as well.  So, we try to do both -- promote
the women's aspect of the game, but also sell and market the
stars, both established and the newer ones.  I believe there are
going to be more great stars in the next decade than there were
in the last.
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