Monday, 26th September 2022
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LPGA sponsors pushing more prize money, better services for women’s golf

The fourth of the LPGA’s five majors this season will hold this weekend in the Evian region of France, where golfers will compete for a chunk of the Amundi Evian Championship’s

The fourth of the LPGA’s five majors this season will hold this weekend in the Evian region of France, where golfers will compete for a chunk of the Amundi Evian Championship’s $6.5 million purse and its seven-figure winner’s cut.

The European tournament’s prize pool is $2 million more than last year, marking a turn in the second half of a season as sponsors double down on their efforts to propel the league forward, reports sportico.com.

In 2021, the combined purse across all five LPGA majors was $23.3 million. This year’s total will top $37 million.

In its inaugural year as an LPGA tournament sponsor, Chevron upped the purse for its championship from $3.1 to $5 million. Healthcare provider ProMedica, another 2022 newcomer and the first-ever presenting partner of the U.S. Women’s Open, increased the tournament’s purse to $10 million—the largest in LPGA history and nearly double 2021’s total payout—with the winner earning $1.8 million. There was also a commitment to push that purse to $12 million over the next five years, putting it almost at par with the men’s majors.

(This year’s U.S. Open had the largest purse among the four men’s majors at $17.5 million. The Masters and PGA Championship were $15 million apiece, and the Open Championship followed at $14 million.)

The pattern held across the remaining majors. KPMG doubled the purse for last month’s Women’s PGA Championship to $9 million; this weekend’s Amundi Evian Championship made its own $2 million bump; and the AIG Women’s Open, which increased its purse by $1.3 million to $5.8 million in 2021, added another million to the 2022 pot. That’s more than double the size of the event’s purse before AIG took over as title sponsor in 2019.

The women’s majors are finally seeing increases akin to those in men’s golf, where purses have soared in recent years.

Offering prize money to players “commensurate with their world-class talent” is a goal Mollie Marcoux Samaan has had for the LPGA since becoming commissioner last summer. And while the former Princeton athletic director works in partnership with tournament sponsors to accomplish that, she also acknowledged that many of the conversations around purse increases this year have been completely partner-driven.

“Our partners are integral to everything we do from a financial standpoint,” Marcoux Samaan said in an interview. “If they’re going to put their name on an event, they want it to represent their brand.”

A lot of companies will say, ‘Listen, we believe in equity. We believe in women’s leadership and promoting and advancing women. And through this sponsorship, we want to put our money where our mouth is.”

The LPGA Tour is tracking toward a record $95 million purse across 33 events. It reflects the greater influx of sponsor dollars that other leagues like the WNBA and NWSL have seen as of late, repeatedly raising the expectation bar.

And while the majors have led the way on the women’s tour, the average total purse still sits under $3 million, less than a third of the average PGA Tour purse of $9.1 million for 2022. Even the eight-figure U.S. Women’s Open payout was only half as big as this year’s Players Championship purse, which ballooned to $20 million—a PGA Tour record.

There is still a way to go to match the $427 million in official prize money to be distributed on the PGA Tour, but the message is clear: Sponsors are willing to work toward closing that gap—and not only in terms of payout.

Sponsors have joined the effort within the LPGA to enhance the player experience and elevate each tournament. Playing at sites that have hosted men’s majors and bettering the broadcast slots and media coverage are part of this sponsor push, but so are less visible markers of progress, such as courtesy cars, hotel accommodations, quality food and training spaces, and even providing players with advanced analytics about their game.

“Sponsors really do act in maybe a more forthright way in terms of trying to advance and change things in the LPGA,” Shawn Quill, managing director and national sports industry leader at KPMG, said in an interview. “The LPGA desperately wants the level of their tournaments and the experience for the athletes who are a part of their association to be the absolute best it can be. And so they are thrilled when we ask the question, ‘What else can we do?’”

Though it is one of Marcoux Samaan’s goals to “provide as many of those services as we possibly can,” sponsors are often at the forefront. KPMG, for example, said it uses player input and chooses one area to focus on improving each year.

That has included everything from bringing on Cadillac as the tournament’s courtesy car sponsor to reaching out to ball manufacturers to ensure players have access to their own range balls to pushing NBC to enhance its telecasts with aerial coverage and shot trackers.

“To us, it’s about small things that make the players feel that they are valued and add up to a big thing,” Quill said. “Whatever we can do to make their experience enjoyable, increase their performance, help them show what they can do, we want to do that. And those things constantly change.”

While KPMG acknowledges the payoff isn’t always strictly financial, it’s felt in player satisfaction and hope that it’s setting the example for other sponsors in the sport.

“Now when we show up to the Women’s PGA Championship, just the way it looks from the first step on the course—it really looks like a major championship,” Swedish golfer and one-time major winner Pernilla Lindberg said last month at a media event. “It’s set up exactly the same way as you would expect a men’s major to be.”

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