SBJ/20090629/This Week's News

Slimmer schedule for LPGA in ’10?

At the midpoint in the LPGA season, the positive signs the tour saw earlier this year with new domestic and international television deals have given way to concern about the 2010 schedule, which could contain just over 20 events depending upon the outcome of continuing extension talks.

There are 29 official money events on the LPGA’s 2009 schedule, down from between 31 and 36 events in each of the last 10 years. The last time the LPGA dipped into the low 20s in a season was 1971, when it staged 21 tournaments.

To date, the 2010 schedule contains 14 events that have contracts or oral agreements with sponsors, the LPGA or both (see box). Eleven of those events hold sponsorship deals and sanctioning contracts with the LPGA, and three are expected to join that list: the Safeway Classic in Oregon and the CVS/Pharmacy LPGA Challenge in Oakland have title sponsorship contracts for 2010 but do not yet have sanctioning contracts with the LPGA. State Farm has agreed to the framework of an extension in Illinois but is still haggling over dates.

Extension talks with sponsor Michelob Ultra
for the LPGA’s Virginia stop have stalled.

 The LPGA classifies nine sponsors as having “shown an intent” to extend. Of the remaining seven events on the 2009 calendar, talks with Michelob Ultra in Virginia and HSBC in Singapore have stalled. Extensions were questionable with Navistar in Alabama and Owens Corning/Kroger in Ohio, said industry sources. SBS and Corning already announced they would not return in 2010 to Hawaii and New York, respectively. Phoenix is without a sponsor after the LPGA arranged a one-year deal with J Golf and Mirassou Winery for the 2009 event.

There is also speculation about the future of the unsponsored LPGA event in China. The IMG-owned tournament is scheduled for late October but does not have a course or a sponsor. If IMG cancels the event, another management group is prepared to stage the tournament, said a source close to the event.

LPGA EVENTS: Looking ahead
Agreements for 2010
Bell Micro LPGA (Ala.)
CN Canadian Women’s Open (Ont.)
CVS/Pharmacy LPGA Challenge (Calif.)*
Honda LPGA Thailand
J Golf (Calif.)
Kapalua LPGA Classic (Hawaii)
Kraft Nabisco Championship (Calif.)
Lorena Ochoa Invitational (Mexico)
LPGA Championship (TBD)
Safeway Classic (Ore.)*
State Farm Classic (Ill.)*
Tour Championship (Texas)
U.S. Women’s Open (Pa.)
Women’s British Open (England)
In active talks
Corona (Mexico)
Evian (France)
Hana Bank (South Korea)
MasterCard (Mexico)
Mizuno (Japan)
Procter & Gamble (Ark.)
Samsung (Calif.)
Sybase (N.J.)
Wegmans (N.Y.)
* Contracts remaining to be signed
Sources: LPGA, events, sponsors

“We are talking 24/7 with our tournaments and partners on renewals and extensions,” said David Higdon, chief communications officer for the LPGA. “We’re extremely confident that we’ll have a strong 2010 schedule.”

Decreased marketing budgets are putting more pressure on sponsors’ ability to meet the LPGA’s run-up on fees in the last few years, said sources familiar with the renegotiations. Increased sanctioning and scoring fees, and now higher television costs under Golf Channel, resulted in an estimated $500,000 annually in additional costs from previous contracts. The LPGA announced it will delay an additional $50,000 charge for scoring systems, and sources said the LPGA is showing flexibility on purse amounts.

LPGA sponsorships generally cost $2 million to $5 million a year, which primarily consists of the purse, television and $150,000 to the LPGA for scoring and sanction fees.

During a meeting with players earlier this month, LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens said there were a dozen prospects for new events in 2010, but industry sources weren’t optimistic about a sizable portion of them coming to fruition. “Most of them are not what I would call close to happening,” said a source with knowledge of the plans.

The LPGA declined to identify potential cities, but industry sources said groups are holding talks in Atlanta, Grand Rapids, Mich., southwestern Florida, and Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. Sources said international expansion could include Taiwan, India, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates.

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