The Ladies European Tour is in trouble. Multiple events have been cancelled as sponsors lose confidence in the value that the product brings. Aside from the Majors in the UK and France, the schedule now contains just a small number of poorly funded events in far-flung corners of the world.
Unless something is done quickly it will be difficult to turn the ship around. There is already clear evidence that the talented young teenage female golfers around Europe have begun to move the end of their amateur careers across the Atlantic to American Colleges in preparation for an attempt at the LPGA Tour.
Previously these young talented athletes would have used the Ladies European Tour as an apprenticeship before a planned move to the States. As more players lose faith in their home Tour, a vicious circle is created whereby fields are weaker and sponsors are less willing to invest their faith and cash in a sub-standard product.
So how can things be improved? In order to be convinced to put their names and money into tournaments, sponsors need these events to have a narrative and generate general interest. Lets take a look at some ideas to make that happen:
Play Great Courses
One of the advantages of attracting less spectators and not hitting the ball as far as their male counterparts is the opportunity for the ladies to use older, iconic courses that infrastructure and technology have made it impossible for the men to utilise.
Unfortunately it looks increasingly likely that the Home of Golf, St Andrews will soon follow this path. Why not an annual Ladies Professional event at the Old Course?
There are also a number of courses that have ambitions to hold major events – Trump Turnberry with the Open for example. A ladies event at courses like this could be perfect test events. And Trump is sure to attract media interest.
Take on the men
Golf is one of the few sports where, given different sets of tees, women can compete on an equal footing to their male counterparts. What better to get the sponsors interested than a Men v Women competition?
It was announced recently that this will actually happen in 2019 – with a joint tournament between the Mens Challenge and Senior Tours and the Ladies Tour. I will be surprised if this is not successful in attracting media coverage and crowds. Indeed I see no reason why the Seniors Tour could not include the Ladies on a permanent basis. You cannot tell me that Laura Davies or Annika Sorenstam would not improve any European Seniors Tour’s event appeal.
Create Quality and Fun Social Media content
Outside of the Majors, Ryder and Solheim Cups, I have very little interest in watching live golf on the TV these days. It seems like an endless episode of putting interrupted by a constant series of annoying adverts.
Almost every day however, I will watch a few minutes of golf coverage on twitter or YouTube. A lot of this coverage is now of a very high production value. Done well, it can help you to connect with players and learn more about the game.
The ladies have a perfect model to follow in this respect. The mens European Tour produce fantastic social media content. This can be individual player highlights, Protracer shots or quite often some offbeat, funny videos that showcase the players personalities away from the course. Most importantly, it is all free and easy to access by the fans – gold dust for advertisers looking to connect with an audience.
Trial Innovative Formats
The Ladies Tour is a perfect platform to trial shorter, quicker formats. The GolfSixes for example, which featured mixed and ladies teams for the first time in 2018, was great exposure for the women’s game.
These kind of formats are cheaper and easier for the media to cover and attract a younger and in many cases new audience.
There needs to be some caution with this approach. The tale of Marks and Spencer, for example, who spent years trying to appeal to a younger audience but in so doing disconnected themselves from their core, more traditional mature customers. In sport, cricket has been hugely successful in marketing its 20/20 format but Test Cricket is now suffering (and with it crickets traditional loyal fans) as players prefer to chase the cash from the shorter formats.
Golf therefore must not lose its true test of 72 hole strokeplay, but a balanced approach with shorter formats at certain times of the year would surely help promote the women’s game.
Become an established breeding ground
I do not think that the European Tour needs to compete directly with the LPGA Tour in the States. The European game already has the benefit of 2 majors – the British Open and the Evian Championship in France. These are iconic events with great venues that attract a world-class field.
Outside of the majors, the Tour needs to convince young professionals that it is the perfect learning curve to graduate to the LPGA. To establish a variety of great venues, top class coverage on social media, decent purses for the top 10 each week and good quality competition should be the goal.
Great quality golf has to be achieved – sponsors will not be attracted by mediocrity. To achieve decent prize money and attract more of the top young European players smaller fields may be required. A partnership with England Golf should be established to get some of the top amateur golfers into the fields – at the same time helping to convince them that this is the best place to start their Professional careers when they do take the plunge.
So the Ladies Tour in Europe is in big trouble – there are enough ideas to turn it around but they need to be implemented quickly. Women’s sport has taken huge strides in football and cricket in recent years and has had great coverage for a while in tennis and athletics. There is no reason that ladies golf cannot follow these paths and have a vibrant successful Tour in Europe. My advice would be to get straight on the phone to the Men’s European Tour CEO Keith Pelley. He is providing a perfect model to follow.