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LPGA'S MECHEM LOOKS BACK ON TENURE, AHEAD TO TOUR'S FUTURE
Published April 27, 1995
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.