SBJ/20090727/This Week's News

LPGA: No plans to hand off any of operations

The PGA Tour, IMG and Octagon are interested in a role with the LPGA, but for now it looks like the 59-year-old women’s tour is set to remain on its own. 

While the LPGA has not been formally approached about such a relationship, it is vowing to remain a member-owned charitable organization with, at least in the short term, full control of its own operations.

The LPGA is owned by its playing members, managed by a board of directors and run by an internal staff. As a nonprofit with 501(c)(3) status, the tour cannot be bought, but its operations could be assumed by another organization.

The LPGA said it has no interest in such an arrangement at this time.

“We are happy with our structure as a player association and have no plans to change it,” said David Higdon, chief communications officer for the LPGA.

In the past year, golf industry executives have discussed the possibility of an agency or the PGA Tour becoming involved to assist the LPGA’s operations, and further speculation was fueled by the recent resignation of Carolyn Bivens as commissioner.

The PGA Tour said it would be open to discussing the potential of owning or operating the LPGA, but the men’s tour has not approached the LPGA, nor has the LPGA inquired about such an arrangement.

“We certainly would sit down with them,” said Ed Moorhouse, co-COO of the PGA Tour. “There’s obviously numerous complications and issues, but if they asked us to take a look at something like that, we would probably take a look at it. Where we would end up on it? I have no idea. But, honestly, they have not done that.”

Golf insiders have said the PGA Tour’s tournament business affairs, marketing and sponsorship sales groups could also offer assistance to a tour trying to shore up tournament expenses and sign sponsors.

“We’re willing to assist them however we can,” Moorhouse said.

There has been speculation that IMG or Octagon — which both run LPGA events and represent players — would be open to assuming ownership of the LPGA, but neither agency is interested in such a scenario, said high-ranking executives with IMG and Octagon.

IMG and Octagon, not surprisingly, would be open to a formal consulting relationship or a role managing all or part of the tour’s operations, said senior executives with each agency. The most pressing need is sponsorship sales, as 15 of the 28 events on the 2009 LPGA schedule are undecided about 2010 extensions. The LPGA now works with tournament owners to negotiate title sponsorships for most events on tour.

“Certainly they could use help in some areas, particularly strategy and sponsorship sales,” said Chris Higgs, co-managing director of Octagon Golf and former COO of the LPGA.

Higdon played down the likelihood of the LPGA hiring an outside consultant until it names a new commissioner, which is expected this fall. “We’re open-minded to any proposal that might come, but right now we’re focused on working with our existing team to conclude the 2010 schedule,” he said. While the LPGA has no outside agency help for its corporate sales, the tour does work with agencies on its media deals. IMG Media handles the tour’s international television rights. Wasserman Media Group and OMD worked on domestic TV deals last year.

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