The LPGA’s Marketing Challenge

The LPGA has a challenging issue in the American market.  The challenge is to change the perception of the LPGA in the mind of the average American golf fan.

What is really behind this challenge?  Let me share a recent conversation I had with other golfers on the Wednesday before the Wegmans LPGA Championship.  I was playing golf with a group of women (all play a lot of golf and are passionate about their sport).  I asked if they watched the LPGA and they all said no because the top 10 women golfers are all Korean.  Their perception is that the LPGA is becoming an Asian tour.  Their declaration that the top 10 players are all Korean is not correct. They were surprised when I told them both Stacy Lewis and Christie Kerr are in the top 10 of the world rankings; and that Stacy Lewis had won two of the last three LPGA events.

On Thursday, I started watching the Wagmens LPGA Championship.  It looked like an American might actually win this major tournament; Paul Creamer, Christie Kerr, and Stacy Lewis were playing well.  Then, on Sunday,  a Chinese player, Shanshan (Jenny) Feng shot an amazing 67 and won.  She is the first Chinese player to win but this means that the current title holders for the four LPGA majors are all Asian (from Korea, Taiwan, and China), and this is “the story” that is focused on in the media.

On the golf channel, both Ron Sirak and Tom Rosenforte raised the issue of what Feng’s win means for the LPGA.  Ron Sirak even suggested that it might mean the LPGA Championship could be held in China in the near future.  In Beth Ann Baldry’s GolfWeek online article she also pondered what Feng’s win means… “For all we know, decades from now this tour might be based in China. Crazier things have happened.”  These golf commentators are adding fuel to the fire and provide even more proof of the “image battle” facing the LPGA marketing team.

So what’s the LPGA to do?  They have tried very hard to position the tour as a “global” tour and promoted Yani Tseng so that fans can embrace her.  This is an important message because the huge growth in golf will be from markets like China.  But frankly, that doesn’t really help with the immediate (and sensitive) image issue facing the tour in its key market, the United States.

It is important to give credit where credit is due and the leaders of the LPGA are reinvigorating the tour overall. For example, they have added events, gotten new sponsors, and they have a really great new marketing campaign for 2012 —  “See why it is different out here.”  I promise, you will enjoy the video below.

They also have embraced social media as I highlighted in my previous blog post “Funny Tweets from LPGA Golfers.”

Now this is all great but the problem is that the message is not getting out to the average golf fan (at least not where I live).  The ads I see for the LPGA are only on the golf channel and mostly shown during coverage of the LPGA.

So what is the LPGA to do?  Well, here are a few suggestions.

  1. Get the Golf Channel to show the new ad campaign during broadcasts of the other tours; especially the PGA.  I get why the new ads are shown during LPGA coverage, but to me this is “preaching to the choir.”  As a marketing professional, this has always been a “pet peeve” of mine — showing ads that are intended to reach new customers to viewers already engaged with your product.
  2. Target an ad campaign to the viewers that “long for the days of Nancy Lopez.”  Heck, get Nancy to do some ads to promote the new breed of American players.  The message is that if you liked Nancy Lopez, then watch Stacy Lewis.  Which brings me to the next issue.
  3. Promote the heck out of your top American players.  Stacy Lewis is #2 in the Rolex world rankings — make a big deal of it.  Play off the developing competition between Stacy Lewis and Cristie Kerr to be the top American.  It’s great that the golf announcers talk about it during the broadcast but take advantage of it in your marketing (use all that great TV footage for some great viral videos).
  4. Expand social media and create a Pinterest strategy.  First, I give credit to the LPGA for having an official Pinterest page; but it has no strategy to engage Pinterest users. The strategy right now looks like they just put up some images as placeholders. They are missing a huge opportunity to brand the LPGA (as well as women and golf)  on a social media site whos biggest demographic is women. I can think of lots of quick wins for their Pinterest presence.
  5. It’s great that the LPGA has embraced Twitter with their players; but now it’s time to see if they can get some love from their brothers on the PGA. The young golfers on the PGA tour “are champions” (excuse the pun) at tweeting and some of the PGA players have huge followings.  I am curious if PGA players follow the LPGA.  If yes, see if they will tweet about it.
  6. Focus on grassroots marketing (and not just when the LPGA is in town for a tournament).  Basically create an outreach program with content that golf associations can use in their eMarketing channels.  There are many golf organizations that are key influencers in their markets and could be the local cheerleaders of the LPGA but they need to be given the messaging and the stories to push.

This blog post may seem like I’m on my soapbox but it just irks me that the golf media has to keep the focus on the large number of Asian players on the LPGA.  Since the media is determined to keep it as a top story; it is up to the tour to create the stories to give the home fans something to embrace.  Many of the American LPGA players are trying hard to step-up and compete (should I say it again, Stacy Lewis is #2 in the world) so they are doing their part.

Golf fans are passionate about their sport and usually have a favorite player (or players) that they follow.  For golf fans that like to cheer for the “home town players,” the LPGA has a lot of great American players to promote in the US market.  Golf fans love to watch great drama unfold during tournament play.  The LPGA has all these things, but right now it seems to be the best kept secret from the average golf fan.