Monday, January 21, 2013

How Well Is Commissioner Michael Whan Doing?

In just three weeks the LPGA will begin its 2013 season with the playing of the ISPS Honda Women's Australian Open. It's about time! Unlike the men, there is a big gap between the end of one season and the beginning of the next. If you are an LPGA fan you had to wait twelve weeks. Twelve long weeks. In my opinion that is much too long. To be perfectly honest, it makes it tough for me to keep coming up with interesting material for this blog. My hope is that someday soon, with the help of our Commissioner Michael Whan, that period of inactivity will be cut in half.

Oh yeah, that brings me to the subject of this week's blog, Mr. Michael Whan.
Now on the job for three years, are we really satisfied with the job he is doing?
Let us take a look:

What were the circumstances that led to the hiring of Mr. Whan in October of 2009?
Michael Whan was hired on October 28, 2009 (took office January 4, 2010). He took over for the then Commissioner, Carolyn Bivens, who was forced out by several high-profile players. The LPGA was sinking at that point. Sinking very fast. In 2008, the tour had 34 tournaments (24 were domestic events), the 2010 schedule that Mr. Whan inherited only had 23 events on the schedule. It was hard economic times and Mr. Whan would have his work cut out for him.

What did we know about this man when he took over as commissioner? Did he appear qualified for the job?
We knew he was 44 years old, and he and his wife, Meg, and their three children made their residence in Lake Mary, Fl. He was a 1987 graduate of Miami (Ohio), University. He was the Executive VP/General Manager of North America TaylorMade Adidas Golf, from 1995-2000.
His most recent job was President/CEO of something called Mission-Itec Hockey.

I have to admit that I was skeptical at this point. Sure, he had an impressive resume. But was he qualified to take over the job of the sport that I love so much? More importantly, was he capable of turning around a sinking ship, and doing it quickly?

Now that the commissioner has had three years on the job, has he lived up to our expectations?
 In 2011 there were 23 tournaments on the schedule, the 2013 schedule shows 28. A 29th tournament on the west coast of the United States is a strong possibility.
The total prize money was  $40.5 million in 2011, it is $48.8 million in 2013.
Television ratings for  the LPGA has been up dramatically.
Television coverage in 2013 will be over 300 hours, more than ever before.
Most importantly, I have not heard the term "sinking ship" in quite some time. In fact I hear just the opposite.

Judge for yourself, I think the answer to the above question is quite obvious. I would certainly like for the readers of this blog to give their opinions, in the comments section.

Now that I have given you most of the facts regarding Mr.Whan during his time as commissioner, I would like to give you some of my observations and opinions.

As most of my readers know, my wife and I go to many of these tournaments every year. In fact we have attended approximately 30 tournaments in the last 5 years.
During this time we have made friends with many of the players. I can honestly say that I have never heard any player criticize the job that the commissioner is doing. The long worried faces we had observed 4 and 5 years ago, have been replaced with smiles of hope. Those smiles are contagious, and make for a much more fan friendly environment. There is no other sport like it. Not the PGA, the NFL, or MLB. If I told you I went to a New York Mets game and left my seat after the 9th inning to go down to speak to David Wright and company, you know I'd be telling a fib. But I am telling the complete truth by saying if you go to an LPGA event you have a pretty good chance that you will get to speak to stars like Paula Creamer, Stacy Lewis, and Yani Tseng, either before or after they played their 18 holes. Your kids will have an experience that they won't soon forget.

I also think that many people tend to look at the schedule and say, "Well we only gained one tournament this year so far." I can't tell you how many times I have heard that in the last week. What everyone who is saying that should realize is, that where it is true three new tournaments have been announced while losing two, I believe about 10 other contracts had expired and had to be renegotiated. So I think a big plus should go into the commissioner's column for retaining such a high percentage in these tough economic times.

Two things I would like to see more improvement on:
1) Media coverage in the local newspapers outside of where the tournament is being held, is almost non-existent. Living in the New York area, I read the New York Daily News and New York Post, two of the papers with the largest circulation in the country. On Monday morning I have to read 4 columns of a PGA story, 3 columns of a Seniors Tours results story, and a column of a men's European story to get to a six line story on the LPGA. That is if there is one there at all. I am not sure what advice to give the commissioner on this problem, but I would certainly like to hear what, if any, ideas he has on improving this situation.

2) More tournaments in the United States. Yes, Mr. Whan has made it clear that an international schedule benefits all. I agree, and there are so many reasons, too many to list. What I don't like are the percentages.
On the 2013 calendar 15 tournaments are in the U.S., 7 in Asia, 2 in Europe, 2 in Canada, 1 in the Bahamas, 1 in Mexico, and 1 in Australia. This is a U.S. based tour. Fifteen of 28 is a number that has to be improved upon. I don't want to lose any of those events outside the United States, I just want to see more here. Once again I know Mr. Whan is doing his absolute best in this dreadful economy, but improvement in this area is something I would want to see in the next several years.

To sum up my opinion on the job Mr. Whan has done to date, I will give him a rating of A-.
The reason I don't go higher, is that in the smallest chance he may read this article, I don't want to give him a big head. I like a commissioner that thinks outside the box, and Michael Whan does that.  Five majors? Many people are still scratching their heads over that one. They may change their minds when the tournament is being played to more TV time and more press coverage. Maybe there were other reasons also. Could he have been afraid of losing the Kraft or Wegman's and having only 3 majors left? I'll trust and support him on this one.
He was criticized when he added the RR Founders Cup a couple of years back. Many were critical that the girls had to play for charity but no prize money. Well that is now a full field event with a $1.5 million purse.

Michael Whan has improved the LPGA in every conceivable way that I could think of. I look forward to what he will do in his next three years.


Awsi Dooger said...

The website is a disaster. It makes me think less of the tour, and everyone involved. I could repeat those words dozens of times and still be understating my disgust.

I'm not going to care what tournament is next on the docket if it requires visiting the blue on blue horror show to find out.

That website was nice and simple under Bivens. Her greatest accomplishment may have been leaving it alone. Whan has tinkered with the website more than he's salvaged the tour.

Otherwise, I appreciate what he's done in difficult circumstances but the creativity hasn't been what I would have expected. Founders led me to believe there would be other innovations. Like maybe playing an event alongside the guys. That would aid both tours. Why isn't there a high profile LPGA pro-am format for several rounds, like Pebble Beach or Palm Springs for the men? You could have a team competition, like the two-man format that the Champions Tour features once per year. Any number of possibilities. Have a long drive contest one week and bunker contest the next week. That could be packaged and shown during the TV coverage, and not inane stuff like having Munoz and Mozo taking over the producers' role. How many times do we have to see that? I also don't understand why every tournament has to be $1 million plus. For years I've posted on LPGA message boards that many $300,000-$500,000 events could fill out the schedule nicely until the economy improves. Get the product out there.

Anonymous said...

I agree Tony, Whan has done a remarkable job given the poor economic environment. I would like the powers that be, to tweak the broadcasting so all players are showcased equally. Watching americans on thurs/fri and then the
winners on sat/sun doesnt cut it for me.

Unknown said...

I agree with a lot of what Tony said. As a person who also lives in the New York area, I also get frustrated with the tabloid's lack of LPGA coverage-I could extend that to women's sports in general. Tony, let me ask you a question: other than the U.S. Open tennis tournament in late August/September, when women's tennis is discussed to some extent, do you feel as I do that "niche" and women's sports such as the LPGA, get little to no coverage in the New York media?

Awsi, I don't entirely agree with your views. I don't find to be that difficult to navigate. Yes, it is more complicated than it used to be, but I have gained more comfort the more I visit, which is pretty much every day since that is the only way to obtain information about the sport.

I also don't agree with the idea of lowering tournament purses to create more tournaments. The LPGA's purses are significantly lower already than the PGA tour's. I would like to see the purses raised, but that along with more domestic events will hopefully come in time.

Where I do agree-I don't want to sound simply contrary-is your disdain about the "gimmicks" that Golf Channel used last year, such as having the players work as crew on telecasts. I would rather see the players miked up more on course or a show or shows focusing on the players' off course lives rather than what feels like to me silly, unnecessary gimmickry.

Mike said...

I think Whan's doing a pretty good job as well. Women's sports always seem to be a hard sell even in a good economy. (I know that's not a popular thing to say, but it's true. If sponsors can afford it, they'll almost always go with a men's event -- with the possible exception of the US Women's Soccer Team.)

Increasing the number of tournaments, while we all agree it's desirable because we fans want to see more, isn't necessarily in the sponsors' best interest. If players have the opportunity to pick and choose when they play -- which they don't right now -- some fields are going to suffer from lack of starpower. Whan also has to consider that in his actions, and going for big purse events is the best way to lure the big names. Unfortunately, that also limits the number of possible sponsors.

I think making Evian a major WAS a hedge against losing the KNC, which was a real possibility at the time. But I also think he's looking at the possibility of having a future major in Asia, and he would still want to keep two majors in the US and two in Europe. Getting everybody used to five majors now would make that an easier sell, as well as giving Asian golf a shot in the arm.

In my opinion, Whan's biggest contribution has been his ability to get the various women's tours to work together for their mutual good. You're seeing more co-sponsored events, which draw more attention to women's golf in general, and that's making women's golf more attractive to sponsors. Whan definitely thinks outside the box... and as a result, the box is getting bigger.

Cyd said...

To help the Tour in America the American women are going to have to start winning on a regular basis. Whan can't help with that.

However finding some way to add a few more American Tournaments will go a long way to helping the LPGA and its fan base grow.

I have always been a fan of the LPGA since Nancy Lopez was the dominant force. It is unfortunate that the LPGA, as others have pointed out, suffers from a lack of coverage.

One thing I would love to see the LPGA do is somehow negotiate a contract with the Golf Channel that provides more coverage of all tournaments until the end of the days play is concluded, whether it is broadcast live or on delay. I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is for me to tune in to the LPGA and only get to watch two hours of play before its off to some other programming. This is especially bad on the major networks and to an extent on the Golf Channel. Fixing this should be a major focus going forward