Back in May I did a piece on what I thought was wrong with the LPGA Tour. I touched on a few issues that, to me, made it tougher for the LPGA Tour to compete with the others for TV viewers. I have observed another issue lately that may be of much greater concern to the Tour, and the steps they have taken to solve that issue. With any luck, we’ll see the LPGA Tour come out of this tough time and continue to grow.
Last Sunday ESPN chose to rebroadcast the 2008 World Series of Poker rather than air the final round of the Wegmans LPGA. Maybe ESPN thought they would get better ratings by showing tape of a year old show that everyone has already seen, rather than showing live LPGA golf. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t watch a sporting event on television when I know what the outcome is going to be. It’s like watching those pathetically scripted reality shows. Sports are the first and only reality shows out there. Millions and millions of fans watch sports because of the simple fact that you don’t know who is going to win, and you never know when the game or match will come down to the last second, the last hole, or the last point. My biggest problem with it is for all the grief I get from football, baseball and hockey fans questioning golf as a sport, ESPN replaces golf with Poker – hardly what I would consider a sport.
It’s become clear to me that ESPN has a clear agenda to promote the events that it has a vested financial interest in, as Martin Kaufmann also pointed out in Golfweek. This would tend to explain the Poker rerun, just a few days before the 2009 World Series of Poker started. This also explains the ridiculous hype over the X-Games every year. It’s all about the ratings. ESPN also seems to try to influence the viewing public with its virtual monopoly of viewership, powerful opinions and tenancy to beat a story to death. Just watch the lineup on weekdays starting at 4:30 with Around the Horn, followed by PTI and finally Sportcenter. You’ll see the same highlighted story talked about on all three shows, and the general opinion on the subject seems to be the same across the board. ESPN seems to have embraced the FOX News model of “info-tainment”, where they choose a story that has some editorial angle to it and over cover it in an attempt to draw ratings, or come up with a cheesy special feature to plug a sponsor’s products and fill air time. Why else would we need a Brett Favre update every single night or a stupid “Who’s Now” bracket?
In any case, it seems that the LPGA Tour is finally taking matters into their own hands lately in an attempt to breathe life into its dying franchise. Carolyn Bivens, the LPGA Tour Commissioner, has her work cut out for her in reviving the struggling tour. Several tournaments are without title sponsors in 2010 and are in trouble of folding, and only 10 events on the LPGA calendar for 2010 are in the United States. Hawaii, once host to three LPGA Tournaments, now has lost its final remaining event, with the death of the Kapalua tournament joining the SBS Open and the Fields Open. What can save this tour? Well, the LPGA recently inked a deal with the Golf Channel to become the LPGA Tour’s exclusive cable broadcaster in the US. That’s a good start, but the problem with that is the Golf Channel also broadcasts PGA Tour, Champions Tour and Nationwide Tour events. Will this lead to competition for air time? Will the LPGA Tour be pushed out of prime time in favor of the PGA Tour on tape delay? I fear LPGA fans will have to set their DVR to record tournaments airing at midnight, long after the final results have been posted on the internet or been talked about on Sportscenter. Oh that’s right, Sportscenter doesn’t even cover the LPGA Tour unless Michelle Wie does something. The problem with that is she really hasn’t done anything yet, except cash in on the hype and false promises that ESPN contributed to creating. I have nothing against Michelle Wie. To expect her to fill the shoes of Annika in her rookie year on tour is unrealistic anyway.
The LPGA has many great personalities and has a lot to offer the fans. If you have a chance to attend an LPGA tournament you can see this. For more entertainment value you can follow many players on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Just tune into Christina Kim’s twitter feed and you’ll see what I mean. Although there was a bit of a circus following the Commissioner’s mis-communicated suggestion to the players to tweet during play, for the most part it’s an easy way to keep up with your favorite players and get a look at the world behind the ropes. For sheer entertainment value, there no better way to get into the lives of the players than to follow Christina, Morgan Pressel and others on Twitter. On the PGA Tour, Ian Poulter and John Daly are favorites.
Let’s hope we can get more LPGA golf on the air and the Golf Channel doesn’t butcher the coverage by sticking it on late night or over exposing us to Kelly Tilghman. (Sorry Kelly, but you’re no Jim Nantz.) With any luck, the players that the tour spends much of it’s marketing dollars promoting – Wie, Gulbis, Creamer, Ochoa, etc will start playing better and make more of an impact on Sundays. There has been much critisism about the throngs of Korean girls that seem to have no identity cluttering up the leader boards, but I don’t blame them. They are a product of the worlds best junior golf program for girls, and each one of them have rightfully earned their place on the Tour, it’s just that these girls being in contention have the same depressing effect on television ratings that Tiger does when he doesn’t play…