SBJ/June 27 - July 3, 2005/Other News

LPGA goes outside for new boss

When major sports properties hire a commissioner, they usually hire from within, or from another major sports property — or at least from the sports industry. The LPGA did none of those in hiring Carolyn Bivens away from her job as president and COO of the largest media-services company in the world, Interpublic’s Initiative Media North America.

Carolyn Bivens, unknown to many in the golf business, quickly made an impression during the process of becoming LPGA commissioner.
In fact, very few important people in the golf business know her. Alastair Johnston, co-CEO of IMG and the former head of IMG Golf, doesn’t. But, he said, “everyone I’ve talked to who has met her said she was an excellent candidate.”

Jon Miller, head of programming at NBC Sports, doesn’t know her either, but he likes her résumé. “She knows media and golf, she’s lived on both coasts and she has clients who are advertisers. The next thing for her is to surround herself with people who share her vision.”

Even outgoing LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw barely knew her. They had met only once, 12 years ago. (Votaw was not part of the search committee that landed Bivens, but she called him a handful of times during the search for insight and advice.)

“When I saw her again [at her introduction two weeks ago], I was impressed with her genuineness,” Votaw said.

Bivens’ career has been in the world of media buying and selling. She was at USA Today when it launched in 1982 and became vice president for national circulation sales in 1985. Six years later she was overseeing worldwide advertising operations for the domestic and international editions. She joined Initiative Media five years ago and in 2002 was named one of the most powerful women in TV by Electronic Media.

When search firm Heidrick & Struggles called her about the commissioner’s job this spring, she thought it was friends playing a joke — partly because at her 40th birthday, 12 years ago, her USA Today colleagues gave her a mock cover on which she’d been named commissioner of the “Senior LPGA Tour,” a joke on her assertion that she’d leave the paper only for the LPGA commissioner’s job. (She’s a 14 handicap and has been known to play four rounds in two days at Pebble Beach, colleagues say.)

At first, the position was not high on her list. “I had my blinders on, headed in a very specific direction, which wasn’t the LPGA,” she said. “But it only took one meeting for me to reorient my focus.”

Now the fun starts. When Votaw steps down next month, Bivens will inherit a property that has had recent buzz for its crop of young stars, a new branding platform and a planned split-season format culminating in a $1 million first-prize event. But the LPGA also has low ratings and, some say, hasn’t yet found a distinctive sales pitch.

But Bivens has the assertiveness of an executive who had ultimate oversight on the buying for more than 400 Initiative clients. You get the feeling she’ll use her Rolodex and push deals to her CEO contacts soon.

“The [LPGA] viewership and audiences may be small, but it’s one of only a few sports that are growing,” Bivens said. “The NBA has had some damn good games, and their viewership is down 30 percent in the playoffs [as of Bivens’ introduction June 16]. That’s not good news. The NHL has, over the course of the last couple months, managed to talk themselves out of a $60 million rights fee. The LPGA is an audience worth some investment, and there’s a real upside potential.”

She doesn’t mince words about her golfers, either. She’s going to survey them (along with sponsors and tournaments), and formulate plans. Then, she seems to expect people to fall in line. “We’ll determine what our priorities are and what roles we need everyone to play,” she said.

Past clients speak highly of Bivens. In Los Angeles she worked with Mendelsohn/Zien, the creative agency behind the saucy Paris Hilton ad done recently for Carl’s Jr., also an Initiative client. Mendelsohn/Zien CEO Richard Zien notes Bivens’ personality by saying, “You don’t get to where she got to without being tough. She’s in a tough business. She has a lovely exterior, warm and engaging, but she’s strong as a bull.”

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