Wednesday, December 30, 2015

PERSONAL: LPGA 2015 - MY Rearview Mirror

Reflections from an LPGA Year of Travel
People say it’s tough to follow up a great year with another really good one.  Well, I beg to differ.  I was sitting on a recent flight … one of more than 100 segments flown during the 2015 work calendar… and I couldn’t help but think about the places I’ve been, the people I’ve worked with, the things I’ve learned, and the stories I’ve seen play out in person.

I was rattling off in my head the airports, airport lounges, and countries which included the Bahamas, Hawaii, England, Scotland, Germany, France, Switzerland, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Mexico.  I made multiple trips to New York City, Dallas, Chicago and Seattle.  I tripped back and forth and back and forth and back and forth from Orlando to California in a three week tournament stretch.  I saw Green Bay for the first time and Des Moines for the second.  And with every city and every country and every airport, came a lasting image.

With Inbee Park & So Yeon Ryu in France
At the LPGA, the tournament schedule (now holding steady at 32- plus events each year) sends us to 14 countries, and puts our product on television in more than 170 each week. The global appeal preached by Commissioner Mike Whan has been accepted, embraced and now trumpeted by everyone within our organization.  Its link to every strategic decision made by our leadership - the “globalness” that is - is now part of what makes the organization special and successful..

The thing about working at the LPGA – in my role – is that every day is a new issue, a new challenge, a new message, and a new reaction.  But I like to think we try to "set the curve" not stay ahead of it. We live off think tanks and we recruit attention. I have no problem in saying that.  It energizes me. Today’s media landscape is more crowded than ever and if you spend any amount of time in earshot of me, you’ll hear “let’s not wait for people to take notice, let’s work to make them take notice.”  Every press release we sent this year aimed for a different twist.  And every press conference we held pushed for some type of attention grabber.

Our players know how to do that better than anyone.  THEY are the brand builders of the organization.  And they really are our best form of public and media relations. And these days it starts at the top with familiar stars like Lydia Ko and Inbee Park who battled for yet another year in a race for Rolex Player of the Year honors, money title bragging rights, low scoring average and the year-long Race to the CME Globe bonus.  Ko won in France and became the youngest major winner in LPGA history.  Park’s place among career Grand Slam winners was secure after she won at Turnberry.  And with that she secured the Rolex Annika Major Award.
Ko & Park with GC's Tom Abbott

American star Brittany Lincicome won herself another major, Lexi Thompson won a few events and continued her upswing in the race for sports world relevance.  Do you know Sei Young Kim?  All she did was wedge her name into the conversation of “best young players” by dropping a chip and tossing a fairway shot into the cup in a span of about fifteen minutes to win in Hawaii.  Do you know Brooke Henderson?  You’d better.  Names like Cristie Kerr and Suzann Pettersen and Na Yeon Choi and Anna Nordqvist and Jessica Korda keep winning.  And people like Kris Tamulis and Chella Choi keep reminding us that if you’re patient, your day will come.

Team USA Raises Solheim Cup in Germany
I’ll never forget my week in Germany… or the days that followed.  The rain was a test, the crowds were a treat … and the Solheim Cup found its way into the arms of Juli Inkster and her American team that never quit and found inspiration from its captain and momentum from controversy.  And isn’t a few minutes of drama what sports is about anyway?  It’s what makes us remember, and there’s always something to be learned along the way. 

Commissioner Whan & ESPN's Mark Schlereth
My year was about more than on-course golf.  It’s really about the generation of conversation.  That’s what we aim to create.  We want attention.  And we want stories - told and shared.  So when ESPN's Mark Schlereth is invited to play in pro-am and can share his experience ... we're all for it!

We worked for multiple appearances on the Today Show and countless mentions in Sports Business Journal.  We found media space from Bloomberg to Glamour, Shape to Self, The Players Tribune to Global Golf Post, and Esquire to Cigar Aficionado, Yoga Journal and ESPN the Body took notice as well… helping our league and its stars reach new diverse audiences.  Our goal is actually to find our way into Refinery 29 … and then parlay that into a piece on the home page – which actually happened this year.

Our LPGA team at Sports Business Awards 2015
While we had a bushel full of golf shots that made it a memorable year.  One of MY personal highlights that made this year spectacular wasn't a shot... but a media accolade for the entire organization.  This year, the LPGA was recognized in New York City at the annual “Sports Business Awards” as one of 5 finalists for “Sports League of the Year” – something that’s never before happened.

At the LPGA Teachers Conference
As I said earlier, I spent my year on a whole lot of airplanes.  More than I’ve ever been on.  But I’m hardly alone. We all travel hard but we do it with a purpose.  Media days, partnership meetings, LPGA/USGA Girls Golf events, National Conferences for our LPGA Teachers – all part of the bigger picture some don't see for our organization and each with the goal of growth.

Golf is about victories for the best players in the world.  But for guys like me and our entire  team, it’s about progress and capitalizing on relationships and ideas.

Your "Bright Idea" Is??
At the beginning of the year, I gave everyone on my team a light bulb.  It was meant to signify the concept of a “bright idea.”  I wanted everyone to think about doing something and owning something that could change our organization for the better. When somebody’s light bulb “went off’ in their head, I wanted them to come share the idea that they had come up with.  Then, we’d figure out how to incorporate it into our game plan for the year.  Yes, I’m kind of corny that way.  But I believe that everyone should take ownership of our growth and play a part.  Perhaps it’s a new way to hold a press conference.  Possibly a better way to use social media or the web site to break news or share stories about our athletes.  No matter what … the challenge was issued and we have had many victories to celebrate this year as a team.

I’ll leave you with this.  What I’ll remember most about 2015 are THREE THINGS:

·       The joy on the faces of our partners at All Nippon Airways (ANA) on the 18th green Sunday at their major championship.  It was their first year with us as a sponsor, and in the end they watched a playoff between Stacy Lewis and eventual winner Brittany Lincicome.  They partnered with us to “grow their brand in the United States” and what they got was a prime-time television finish between two of the top American players.  They’ve helped to take a major championship with storied history and give it a fresh new look.  At each opportunity, they still chat me up about that particular Easter Sunday.

·       The progress made with the help of a 10-player Communications Committee that dedicated it’s time to helping push our media envelope.  Our players not only say “yes, I can help” … but they also say “how can I help.”  That’s rare in today’s world of professional sports.  But it is unique to the LPGA.  With players like Sandra Gal, Shanshan Feng, So Yeon Ryu and Morgan Pressel giving their time … it’s tough to go wrong when it comes to involving top players and their ideas.

·       The smile on the faces of three young girls and their families at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.  We sent personal invitations to the winners of the Drive, Chip & Putt held at Augusta National.  Three of the four families were able to attend at Westchester Country Club.  The purpose for us was to allow the young winners to see their heroes in person – given that the finals take place on Sunday prior to the Masters which happens to be the final round of the ANA Inspiration for the LPGA in Rancho Mirage, California.  Those young girls were treated to an all-access week with their families to watch press conferences, get pictures, go inside the ropes and go on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive.  And another young girl earned a trip to be a “junior reporter” for the week – having a chance to document her own experience.  To me, it’s about providing memories and giving girls a chance to experience the LPGA and perhaps live out a childhood dream that gives them hope to be a star themselves someday.

Drive, Chip & Putt Winners Visit  the LPGA
I could document so much more.  But there is a new year on the horizon. New sponsorships to be collected, new relationships to foster.  In the coming year, I’ll visit Rio for the Olympic Games among many exciting opportunities.  But the goal remains the same … grow our stage, raise the height of our mountain so that when we shout about the good things going on at the LPGA … the reach is just a little bit bigger each year.

THOUGHT FOR THE YEAR: You are NOTHING without a great team around you  - and with you.  A huge thanks to the team I work with each day in LPGA Communications - the best media team in the business of professional sports.

No comments:

Post a Comment