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The fact is, the TV ratings for most tournaments, men's or women's, would get a sitcom canceled in a week. But because of the demand to be a part of the PGA Tour, Beman requires new sponsors to buy commercial packages, in some cases for more than $1 million, if the tournament is televised on one of the major networks. On the Senior tour, sponsors pay as much as $350,000 to get on ESPN. "Sponsors don't go to men's golf just to get commercials about their product on television," says Stirling. "They've decided the image of the PGA is something they want associated with their product."
The LPGA has never had the same prestige, and its ratings are even lower than the PGA's. "TV time is almost a liability in a package the LPGA presents to a sponsor," says Stirling. "If he doesn't want to buy any television commercials, a sponsor knows he can still get a nontelevised tournament [for less money]. So now you hardly ever see the women on television.
"The biggest mountain the LPGA faces is getting back on television. It's simple: The more you are on television, the more familiar people are with your players and the better chance they have of becoming stars. And stars sell the tour."
In both attracting tournament sponsors and lining up TV coverage, the Senior tour has seriously cut into the LPGA's franchise. The Senior tour has increased its prize money from $250,000 in 1980 to $14 million this year, eclipsing the women's tour. The LPGA used to get sponsors who couldn't obtain a date with the PGA Tour, but now the Senior tour is the alternate of choice. In fact, because the amateurs who play in pro-ams are almost always middle-aged men, and because senior pro-ams are two-day affairs, the Senior tour is sometimes corporate America's first choice.
The LPGA achieved its highest profile under former commissioner Ray Volpe. When he took over in 1975, the group was nearly bankrupt and offering only $1.5 million in prize money. Seven years later the women were playing for $6.4 million, primarily because Volpe got corporate America interested in women's golf. "The PGA Tour is bought; the LPGA is sold," said Volpe. That will probably remain true longer than the women would like.
"Ray used a machete to cut down bushes, paved the road, and here came Nancy Lopez in her big Cadillac," said Tony Andrea, a sports marketer who worked closely with Volpe in designing a strategy to sell the tour.
Volpe's marketing strategy was coolly calculated. He decided to sell the LPGA by emphasizing factors other than golf. For example, Volpe used the comely Laura Baugh, who had never won a tournament, to promote the tour as often as possible. He persuaded a promising young player from Australia named Jan Stephenson to pose seductively in an attention-grabbing layout in the tour's Fairway magazine. "I might not have looked like the typical LPGA player," says Stephenson, "but it worked."
Perhaps too well. By emphasizing factors other than golf, Volpe devalued those players whose most noteworthy quality was simply their winning golf. As a result, such pros as Bradley, Okamoto and King, former leading money winners all, remain nearly unknown to the public. The LPGA administration can't decide whether it should promote its members as attractive women who a happen to play golf or as excellent golfers who happen to be women.
"Women's golf has never been marketed to showcase competence," says Mann. "It's been marketed to placate some of the traditional views of what society wants women to be—pretty, demure, but not necessarily athletes. Ray helped our tour by getting us exposure, but he also created something that future leadership has to overcome."
Volpe, who left the LPGA in 1982 and now runs a communications company in New York, agrees with Mann. "We promoted sex too heavily," he says. "Now it's time for another profile." But Volpe doesn't apologize. "I had one job, and one job only," he says. "That was to make the women of the LPGA richer. At that time something that was holding the women back financially was the butch image, so we tried to deal with it."