Bill Roberts brought up the in-question future of the MasterCard event in the comments of my tournament preview and I responded. But that got me thinking – when recent tournaments have gotten the axe, what things did they all have in common and can we use that knowledge to help us predict which current ones are in trouble?
Here are the events which have been removed from the LPGA schedule in the last four years. The final year of that event is in parentheses.
Mitchell Tournament of Champions (2007)
Takefuji Classic (2006)
Florida’s Natural Charity Championship (2006)
Franklin American Mortgage Championship (2006)
ShopRite LPGA Classic (2006)
Wendy’s Championship for Children (2006)
Office Depot Championship (2005)
Welch’s/Fry’s Championship (2004)
Kellogg-Keebler Classic (2004)
Giant Eagle LPGA Classic (2004)
Wachovia LPGA Classic (2004)
Asahi Ryokuken International Championship (2004)
I omitted the HSBC Match Play Championship since the sponsor relocated the event, and the Honda Thailand event because it will be resumed in early 2009. Even-numbered years seem to bring out the hatchet, so this study is a timely one indeed.
Let’s start with purse size relative to other events in the same season. The Mitchell TOC paid $1 million, the least of any event in 2007. Being a limited-field event, the TOC got by on that for a couple of years but not this time. Mobile and the RTJ Golf Trail were only able to land a replacement event by getting Bell Micro on-board and increasing the purse to $1.4 million. Still, there are only four full-field events in 2008 with smaller purses than the Bell Micro. Three of the lost 2006 events – Takefuji, Franklin and Wendy’s – awarded $1.1 million. Of the full-field events, only SBS offered a smaller purse than those three (Longs awarded the same but wasn’t axed). The other two tournaments cut from 2006 plus the 2005 Office Depot had reasonably good purses. As for 2004 – the Welch’s/Fry’s paid only $800,000 (the least of any full-field event). Giant Eagle, Wachovia and Asahi paid $1 million (there were three other $1 million full-field events) while the Kellogg-Keebler Classic awarded $1.2 million. To summarize, eight of these twelve events were either near or at the bottom in purse size.
A huge common thread is sponsorship loss. I found online evidence that seven of these twelve events were discontinued directly for that reason – Kellogg-Keeber, Asahi, Wachovia, Giant Eagle (the Asahi link covers the last two), Welch’s/Fry’s, Franklin and Florida’s Natural. The Takefuji and Office Depot apparently suffered the same fate, although I could not find any articles specifically saying that, and I believe the Mitchell Company did not renew their association with the TOC.
Two events, ShopRite and Wendy’s, were dropped specifically because the LPGA wanted to move their dates to accommodate other events and the sponsors and tournament organizations refused. ShopRite is the one tournament in this study which had a legitimate complaint about how they were treated by the LPGA – their purse was $1.5 million (36% more than the other axed 2006 events), the sponsor had been in place since 1992 and the event itself dated back to 1980. The Ginn Tribute wanted ShopRite’s week, and they got it. For a time there was talk about a lawsuit but to my knowledge it was never filed. Most of the anti-Bivens venom I spewed in my early blogging days was born in the ShopRite situation, along with her apparent lack of concern about tournament turnover. I now believe that most of that turnover was ultimately good for the Tour but there was no good excuse for treating ShopRite so shamefully.
What conclusions can we draw from this information? I don’t think you can look at a sponsor’s name (or even their bottom line) to gauge whether they will continue to support an LPGA event but you get a good idea by looking at the purse, 80% or more of which comes from that sponsor. If you see an event near the bottom of purse-size amongst full-field events (limited fields can be near the bottom too but as we’ve seen, they are not immune), that seems to be an early indicator that the sponsor’s interest is waning. If they keep bumping up the prize money a $100,000 or two every year, the event stands a much better chance of carrying on. Keeping in mind that external factors could prod the LPGA into another Wendy’s/ShopRite move, prize money seems to be the primary onus.
So in this even-numbered year, which five events won’t be around in 2009? Losing five isn’t a certainty but I believe we’ll lose more than one. Here are the events I believe will most likely not be included on the 2009 schedule:
Longs Drugs Challenge
Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic
Samsung World Championship
Far and away, Corona is the most likely victim. A low purse ($1.3 million), and the sponsor is already a co-sponsor of the new Ochoa Invitational in November. SBS has the lowest purse of any full-field event and Longs is second so they default to the 2-3 spots. Farr’s biggest danger – it has a primo slot in the second weekend in July. In that part of the calendar, the Farr’s $1.3 million purse is just begging to be replaced. I include MasterCard and Fields because they have small purses but I believe they will survive or at least “merge” with the Corona and SBS events respectively. Don’t think Samsung is invincible – its $1 million prize equals the new Ochoa event for smallest of the year. It does have the smallest field but it has now inherited the title of “Weakest Limited Field Event” from the Mitchell TOC.