The Constructivist has reopened the discussion on television and the LPGA so naturally I have to contribute. If you haven’t read the links in his post on ratings and the Tour’s TV contracts, I recommend you do so. Be sure to skip his link to my post from two years ago – I didn’t know enough in 2006 to realistically assess the Tour’s TV prospects.
I can’t stress this point enough – the LPGA is a niche sport. Unless Tiger Woods has a sex change operation, it is NEVER going to draw the TV ratings that men’s golf or football or any other major sports can draw. Anyone who looks at ratings from that perspective is always going to see the LPGA’s numbers in a poor light. Unfortunately, the major networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX) have enough other sports already signed up which do bring in better ratings so they naturally air the sports which earn them higher ad revenues. I believe the Tour would serve its interests better and get more “bang for its buck” if it forgot about trying to force itself onto the major networks and concentrate on establishing a partnership with a cable network.
Jon Show’s article in the Sports Business Journal mentions several ways the LPGA is attempting to improve its TV presence. Revenue-sharing deals (like the NHL has with NBC) instead of the multiple time-buys currently in place, more consistent time windows, an umbrella sponsorship package of 8-12 events – all of these will be much easier to negotiate when dealing with a smaller network. Show mentions that the LPGA average rating in 2007 was 0.87, down from 1.13 in 2006 and 0.97 in 2005. Those numbers means zilch to NBC but sound pretty good to an outlet like Versus or FOX SportsNet. I am aware that part of those ratings were collected on the broadcast networks (which reach far more households than Vs or FSN) but they were also collected over a willy-nilly schedule – two rounds here on GC, two rounds there on NBC, three rounds here on ESPN2 – at hours ranging from 1pm to 9pm Eastern that I’m certain causes many an LPGA fan to miss some of the coverage. Don’t underestimate the value of a stable channel and timeslot.
The declining American economy and its effect on sponsorship are certainly a big part of this puzzle. We’ve already seen how it has affected several events directly. I do have a somewhat optimistic view on that situation – with advertising budgets dwindling, a company might consider dropping its multi-million dollar support in another sport and invest in a smaller, growing one with a youthful image. Selling corporate naming rights and cross-promoting products with such a corporation might be a good way for the Tour to proceed.
Those of you who don’t have cable (I know of one in particular!) don’t want the LPGA to abandon the broadcast scene, and I’m not advocating that they do that completely. Keep the majors (or the weekend rounds of them) on the networks that are willing to take the LPGA’s money and air them, but stop this practice of paying good money to put the Ginn Open on CBS and use that event to help leverage a good deal with your new cable partner and the money to help offset any concessions you need to make. Guarantee them First and Second Round (or even Third) coverage of all four majors, plus early Final Round if they want it. Produce a weekly “Inside the LPGA Tour” program and provide it to your partner free of charge. In return, require the partner to carry ALL of the overseas events (on tape-delay if necessary) to help keep domestic interest from waning as more tournaments get launched “over there”. There are so many ways the Tour can make the most of its current upswing if it will only lower its sights to reasonable expectations. Then, in ten years or so, maybe they can get Tiger to have that operation.