These Girls Rock
The 2005 Safeway Classic is one rockin’ tour stop on the way to the $1 million LPGA Playoffs prize
By Bridgete Lynch

Change is afoot at the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

Big change.

After listening to fans, players, sponsors, the media, and just about anyone else willing to talk, the LPGA announced a new playoff model and its new brand platform early this summer.

The LPGA Playoffs at The ADT and “These Girls Rock” are the products of a five-year business plan called Fans First and are considered some of the most significant moves for the LPGA in recent history. “These Girls Rock” is not just an advertising campaign, it is a complete marketing and communications platform for the LPGA. Even rock concert ticket-style business cards are part of the new brand positioning.

The LPGA enlisted Element 79, a Chicago-based agency that has previously done work for Gatorade, Propel Fitness Water and Capital One, with the task of developing a new brand platform.

The result is a rock and roll inspired collection of communications that are intended to convey the LPGA’s brand essence—performance, passion and personality, says Karen Dirken, LPGA executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

The initial marketing images include Tour players Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Juli Inkster, Cristie Kerr, Meg Mallon, Lorena Ochoa, Se Ri Pak, Grace Park, Jennifer Rosales, Annika Sorenstam, and Karrie Webb.

Featured print ads include Kerr, Ochoa, Park, Sorenstam, and Webb in a rock group pose complete with a golf club as electric guitar, a mock record album entitled “Annika Sorenstam’s Greatest Hits,” and Rock World, a mock music industry magazine cover featuring Mallon and Creamer.

“It’s about showcasing LPGA players as great golfers—not just the best women golfers in the world, but the best golfers in the world,” Dirken says.

One of the key features of the platform is the use of statistics, Dirken says. One particular graphic names Sorenstam “The Worlds Most Dominant Golfer” and goes on to compare her stats with Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods. Dirken said the LPGA hopes to find ways to incorporate that kind of information into tournament broadcasts as well. “Every application is worked through and drawn from ‘These Girls Rock,’” says Ty Votaw, LPGA commissioner. “When Birdie Kim sinks a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to win the U.S. Women’s Open, I think ‘Birdie Rocks’ is a wonderful application.”

The LPGA hopes that the new brand will give the 54-year-old association and women’s golf a more contemporary image, Dirken says.

So far, the response to the platform has been overwhelmingly positive.

“But with over 200 members all different ages, nationalities and swing styles, we never expect 100 percent approval and praise,” Dirken says.

“You can never please everybody, but reactions externally are very encouraging and reactions internally are generally positive,” Votaw says. “If there is a negative in a player’s mind, it is based on a philosophy or feeling that they themselves don’t rock. So they say, ‘Gee, I don’t rock so this isn’t a good thing for us.’ It’s not about rock and roll, although that tends to be the subtle implication. It’s more about an attitude. It’s more about a mindset. And the word ‘girls’ doesn’t reflect an age. It reflects an attitude, and that’s where we’re focusing.”

The ages of the players featured in ads so far range from Creamer, who is 19, to 45-year- old Inkster.

Along with the new brand, the LPGA has also launched an aggressive public relations campaign designed to spotlight players outside of the golf world in more mainstream media and consumer press, Dirken says.

Raising the profile of the LPGA was also one of the major reasons behind the introduction of the LPGA Playoffs at The ADT, a yearlong competitive structure featuring a $1 million first place prize.

The Playoffs will take place over the first three days of The ADT Championship. The field will be narrowed each day and the finalists will compete on Sunday in an 18-hole, final-round shootout for the largest first-place prize in the history of women’s golf.

“We looked at the competitive landscape and at how consumers are spending their leisure time and money. We found equities that are successful like the NFL and the Superbowl, NASCAR and the Nextel Cup and wanted to determine if there were best practices that were applicable to the LPGA,” says Dirken. “That is how the playoff model developed.”

The concept was originally developed by a collection of LPGA staff, Votaw says. Since it’s first presentation to executives in December, it has undergone refinements and will continue to be tweaked until it is put into action, he says. “We were looking for new and exciting ways in which we can achieve our strategic initiatives of raising our profile and expanding awareness about the LPGA,” Votaw says. “Golf is unlike other sports. There isn’t any funneling down of a season to one championship like the World Series, the Superbowl, NCAA basketball or the Nextel Cup. So we took elements of all of those things and tried to apply them to golf and make a unique scenario and achieve our objectives.”

In addition to raising the profile of the LPGA, Votaw says other objectives were to create a year-long interest in women’s golf, to motivate players to play in events that they might not otherwise play, and to create greater media awareness.

“Seven years ago there were only 12 tournaments that had purses of $1 million or more,” Votaw says. “Today there are over 30 that have $1 million in prize money, and this will be the first time that a first place check will ever be made for one million bucks.”

The new format will split the season into two halves with 15 players from each half and two wild card players qualifying for the Playoff using a performance based point system throughout the year.

There will be designated “points events” in which players will simply earn points toward the Playoff, and there will also be “winner’s events” where the winner will automatically qualify. Votaw adds that there would also be events that are a combination of points and winner’s designations.

The players tend to view the new format as a work in progress, Votaw says.

“We’re tweaking it and getting player feedback and tweaking it some more,” he says. “There have been players who are critical of it, and we’ll continue to look at it. But I’m not troubled by the criticism because frankly the media tends to focus on negatives and criticism and that just means that they’re going to write more about it, which I am fairly pragmatic about.”

Regardless, Votaw says the LPGA is committed to going forward with the change, splitting the season in half and creating a points-based system to get to The ADT Playoff.

BrainstormNW - December 2005

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