Thursday, May 29, 2014

You're supposed to yell "Fore"

By Keith Allison (originally posted
 to Flickr as Michelle Wie)
 [CC-BY-SA-2.0
 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons caption
Not a golfer. Never have been. If there's no tiny windmill on the course, you won't find me.

But I worked behind the scenes at a few LPGA golf tournaments in Rochester, NY, doing the PR and community relations thing. In a temporary building with air conditioning. Next to the microwave fries table. As I said, I'm no golfer.

When the LPGA announced this morning they were abandoning Rochester for the greener (as in cash) greens of metro New York City, after 38 years in Rochester, I had a few observations:

  • LPGA's timing sucks. Really? Announce a 2015 move to NYC two months prior to the 2014 tournament in Rochester? Why not just set fire to the ticket booth at Monroe Country Club? Waiting to make the announcement after August 2014 would still sting, but it would not have insulted the upcoming Rochester event.
  • Rochester's corporate community has backed away from this annual tournament for years. When I arrived, it was the Sarah Coventry International. After their bankruptcy, other sponsors funded the purse, including a former employer. All saw limited value in the relationship; the return on investment kept fading. (Kodak, then a major photography brand, was a five-figure sponsor -- but fans were forbidden from taking photos of golfers from the gallery.)
  • Who interacted with corporate sponsors in that temporary building? Mostly older golf fans and retirees. They wanted free product samples, whined about the cheap plastic goodie bags, or complained that sponsors weren't doing more for the tournament.

Wegmans Food Markets stepped in and kept it alive for years. That was a gift, especially from a regional company that owns better than 50 percent of the grocery market -- and didn't need to spend the money.

In Rochester, LPGA were once-a-year visitors, focusing more and more on events in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, China, and other fast-growing overseas markets. More golfers came from Asian and Latin American cultures. Rochester has some global brands, but few on the massive scale of Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Airbus, and Yokohama Tires -- all tournament sponsors.

LPGA wanted bigger visibility, and even a small slice of the metro NYC market and a new TV deal will eclipse what they got in Rochester. So, off they go.

It was fun. Although I wonder if a league with at least nine tournaments each labeled "Championship" really has its act together.