SBJ/February 15-21, 2016/People and Pop Culture

Plugged In: Mike Nichols, chief business officer, Symetra Tour

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The Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s developmental circuit, begins its 2016 season on Friday, with 23 events slated for play this year. Under the leadership of Chief Business Officer Mike Nichols, the tour has added eight events since 2014, and Symetra, which bought title sponsorship rights in 2012, extended that deal late last year through 2021. The top 10 players on the Symetra Tour’s money list each year automatically advance to the LPGA Tour. Nichols, who joined the LPGA in 2006, has worked in his current role since 2012. His goal is to attract the best up-and-coming golfers to the Symetra Tour and having both fans and sponsors engage with those young players along the way.

The pro-am experience is the driver of value. It creates a different image once people touch the product and get to interact with the players. We are selling interaction.


Photo by: LPGA
On the challenges of growing the tour: It is really about exposing people to the Symetra Tour and getting people to understand the quality of play on the tour. The average winning score [last year] was 68.5, and we had players from 38 different countries. Nobody knew who Derek Jeter was when he played for [the minor league Greensboro Hornets]. I have realized that at the end of the day, the players are the same but just haven’t made it to the LPGA Tour yet.

On the effort to attract sponsors, with current tour title sponsorships ranging between $150,000 and $250,000: We are trying to talk about the value proposition. We have a very affordable value. Not everyone can afford a $1 million investment but wants to appreciate how professional golf provides access and client hospitality. A company can bring a professional golf event to their hometown, have 20 teams in the pro-am for employees and guests to play with a future LPGA star, and have a lasting charitable impact all for the same price as it costs to purchase a tent on the PGA Tour. All of our 23 tournaments have title sponsors.

On the future: Our goal is to become the No. 1 place for ladies from around the world to come to pursue playing on the LPGA Tour and see it as the next viable option. We are going in the right direction. ... If we are giving the top 40 players the opportunity to play and the top third of the field can cover their expenses, we will see more and more players leaving their home tours to invest time to be ultimately ready to play on the LPGA Tour.

On the current state of women’s pro golf: The reports of golf’s death are greatly exaggerated. The LPGA has a program with the [U.S. Golf Association] that now has 50,000 girls exposed to the game. We are getting more young people in the game. Unfortunately, there is more media focus on Callaway’s fourth-quarter report [out earlier this month] than there is on that there are more girls entering the sport than ever before.

— John Lombardo

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