2004: LPGA turns up marketing volume

Annika Sorenstam, almost single-handedly, garnered more publicity for the LPGA in 2003 than tour officials could ever have imagined.

LPGA executives would love for her to repeat her feats, but they’re doing more than counting on Sorenstam to keep the tour in the spotlight.

Midway through an ambitious five-year business plan to increase the tour’s fan base and sponsorship value, the LPGA is escalating its most intensive marketing campaign to date.

Among the mix of recent or soon-to-be launched initiatives: sponsorship of a NASCAR vehicle during the Daytona 500; creation of an LPGA-branded apparel line; a makeover of its Web site; recruitment of a Hollywood public relations firm; rollout of its LPGA Fan Van; and an LPGA poster, including an event schedule and glamour shots of some of its players.

“Everything is designed to grow our fan base. . . This is what makes us more valuable to sponsors and more of an overall attractive property,” said Karen Durkin, the LPGA’s chief marketing officer.

When announcing the business plan in early 2002, Commissioner Ty Votaw emphasized building bonds with fans and making bigger stars of the tour’s players. Taking these steps, he said, would propel the LPGA toward achieving “measurable” goals, such as raising attendance 15 percent and boosting TV viewership 10 percent annually during the five-year span.

The tour hasn’t hit all of its targets, but its performance has improved significantly since its pre-plan years, according to these benchmarks.

The LPGA isn’t necessarily allocating more dollars for the marketing push, Durkin said. Rather, she said the tour is spending its funds differently. She declined to disclose specific figures, but explained that broadly targeted TV ad campaigns have been discarded for more audience-specific initiatives.

The tour is taking different avenues to reach “men and women, 30 to 50, who have a passion for the game and increase their demand for the LPGA,” Durkin said.

That approach is reflected in the LPGA’s hiring of Rogers Cowan/Weber Shandwick, Entertainment Marketing as its PR agency.

“They are not a sports PR firm,” said Durkin, adding the agency helped get players, including Lorena Ochoa, Laura Diaz and Natalie Gulbis, featured in publications ranging from Woman’s World to US Weekly.

Likewise, the Fan Van – which conducts contests and displays player images – will go on the road to attract fans to LPGA events.

Said Durkin: “We haven’t officially labeled these initiatives as ‘phase two,’ but it’s safe to say we’re intensifying our efforts.”

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