SBJ/January 24 - 30, 2005/Opinion

Votaw leaves gains, challenges for future

LPGA Tour Commissioner Ty Votaw, who is stepping down at the end of the year, can be proud of what was accomplished during his seven-year tenure.

What’s the record? Votaw scaled back the number of tour events but grew LPGA purses from an average of $840,000 per event to about $1.4 million. Total purses will reach a record $45 million in 2005. He oversaw the tour’s rebound from the post-9/11 economic downturn to become a property with a healthy sponsorship roster. The tour is more diverse and representative of the global game of golf than ever before.

Votaw’s lasting legacy could be the Five Points of Celebrity program he has championed since 2002 to push players to be more cognizant of the way they relate to fans and to get players exposed in more entertainment and pop-culture marketing vehicles.

Yet Votaw leaves a tour that still has plenty of question marks. Players’ purses are still far inferior to those for the men; total purse for the men’s tour is about $250 million for 48 events. Some marketing approaches have been questioned: Did sponsoring a car in last year’s Daytona 500 really resonate with NASCAR fans? Could those resources have been better allocated? Many argue that the LPGA’s players still are undermarketed on Madison Avenue. With stars like Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie, the game is brimming with personalities. Its TV ratings have failed to show the steady growth Votaw has wanted.

The LPGA has lots of advice to consider in finding a replacement. Should it be a brand marketer? A former player? A television and new-media guru? LPGA Tour player Rosie Jones said, “It might be time for a woman commissioner.” It certainly might. The most important criterion, though, is to pick the person who will be best able to build on the progress that Votaw has made. Said Votaw recently, “I’m confident I’m leaving the organization in a better place than I found it.”

We agree, but the work is far from done.

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