Hmm, not sure I want this back on top as a thread, but the topic's entertaining and I thought I would actually bring a couple facts (the horror <g>) and some opinions on this one. My short version - the LPGA's doing just fine given the challenges of women's sports in general (global problem, not US-centric). It could be doing even better if ... (tease - see end of post)
1) First, here are the facts on LPGA growth under Votaw. From 1991 to 2004 - $18.4 to $42 M in prize money; $500K to $1.3 M per event. TV coverage is up as well - to 250 hours in 2004 (to be fair, The Golf Channel wasn't around in 1996 so some of this growth would've shown up with or without Votaw in all likelihood). Here's a website with some data on Votaw's efforts and the LPGA results - http://www.lpga.com/content_1.aspx?mid=0&pid=101
2) Most women's sports have a tough time finding an audience of any kind. Baseball, football, and basketball all have active franchise leagues that continue to increase in value. The only women's league that has any mass coverage (media or fan-wise) is the WNBA and that would be because of the NBA affiliation.
3) Individual sports are an interesting case study - and probably more relevant than the team sports comparison. Men's golf rose in popularity when Tiger has his breakout win at Augusta in '97, then really went big time when Tiger chased the slam in 2000-01. A dominant performance of historical significance got more people watching golf than ever. Ironically, Annika got more coverage for her "participation" at Colonial than for all of her results on the LPGA tour - how crazy is that, finishing 110th in a field of 121 gets her more attention than chasing history. Now why could that be - possibly because Tiger's a minority in a predominantly white sport who happened to have an outspoken father and was nice enough to announce his arrival at a young age with 3 Junior US Amateurs and 3 US Amateur titles before turning pro with the "Hello world" press conference. Annika, on the other hand, had the audacity to grow up in Europe, be white, not be particularly outspoken, and not really announce herself early in her career (i.e. not stroke-breaking records in majors, but the '96 US Open was clearly a sign of the potential we see now). How dare she not say outrageous things ("2nd sucks" - Tiger '97 at Pebble; "Ryder Cup's no big deal" - everytime he loses a match) or have outrageous commercials ("There's courses I'm not allowed to play" - Tiger '96) or interviews (GQ '97). As much as I'm willing to admit that sports is a competitive environment for eyeballs, you should be able to let your performances speak for themselves, particularly when they've been at Annika's level the last 2-3 years. Tiger is allowed to let his performances speak for themselves (come on - anyone ever seen or read a Tiger interview transcript - how anyone can say nothing for so long is nothing short of amazing) - Annika (and anyone on the LPGA side) is not. I would content this is nobody on the LPGA tour's fault - the media chooses not to let the performances speak for themselves, but instead to wonder why nobody cares. Here's an example from Tim Dahlberg (who should know better) - http://sports.yahoo.com/golf/pga/new...v=ap&type=lgns
4) The equally interesting comparison is women's tennis, which started to surpass men's tennis in viewership when Venus and Serena Williams began playing each other in big tournaments with frightening regularity (ironically most of the top men's tennis players were non-Americans with lots of vowels in their names). The Williams have many of the key criteria for winning over the US media - first and foremost they're American; they're black in a sport dominated by white players who frequently grew up in well-to-do circumstances; they came out of a really bad neighborhood; they have a really outspoken father who says things that are often as outrageous as they are incorrect. All of this is stuff the media loves - meanwhile Lindsay Davenport has won 3 majors and all anyone does is yawn; the media's more excited about Ashley Harkleroad (ranking about 250, titles won = 0) for her alleged looks than they ever were about the Belgium duo of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardine (who at one point won 3 of 4 Grand Slams). Make no mistake - if Justine and Kim were from DC instead of Belgium, they would've gotten a ton more run. I guess that makes the WTA just as lame as the LPGA, eh?
So the LPGA has a couple choices - pray that the emerging crop of young American players (Paula Craemer, Aree Song, and who's that other one - oh, yeah, Michelle Wie) can start winning big titles soon and get some PR coverage, or they can start a fund to invest in promising youngsters in economically challenged neighborhoods in big cities with outspoken parents and some fashion sense, then hope they have enough talent to make it to the big time without getting injured or encountering the yips from the pressure of an entire tour being on their shoulders.
My guess - they bet the ranch on Michelle Wie and she'll get more coverage and fans watching the first time she wins a major than Annika will if she wins all 4 this year. Sad but true - and completely unfair to Annika and the LPGA Tour - that they'll get the most coverage when they're able to say "Michelle against the World at this year's major - see who wins" (i.e. the Tiger 2000 campaign LPGA style). Also sad but true - people who would never have an investment portfolio in any one stock will throw everything behind Michelle (ticker WIE) instead of behind the entire crop (ticker LPGA) - we all know what kind of risk a non-diversified portfolio can set you up for, right? The most ironic of all results would be that the next generation of LPGA superstar(s) comes from somewhere other than the US, the media calls them boring (again), then asks why fans yawn (but enough about March 2005 for the LPGA). Viva Michelle! will be the mantra around LPGA HQ for a long time to come. If Michelle's got any minority family members anywhere in the family tree, we'll be hearing plenty about them, too.
So in short - to anyone who calls the LPGA out as a failure over the last couple of years or as an organization that "doesn't get it" - what path would you have them take given their choices?
Sorry - if I had more time this would've been shorter <g> - storytime for the kids, gotta hop ...