Since last summer, when I was honored and humbled to be chosen as the ninth commissioner of the LPGA, in conversations with our team, our players, our sponsors and our fans, I have used the phrase, “This is our time.” That is not a new slogan or marketing campaign. It was not developed by an ad agency or run through focus groups. It is what I believe in my heart and what I see every day in the extraordinary momentum that we are experiencing, not only on the LPGA but in all of women’s sports.
Our time did not come by accident. We’ve been building toward this moment for 72 years since our 13 Founders defied all odds and formed the LPGA. We are the oldest independent women’s sports league in the world. Thanks to the vision of our remarkable Founders, women have been able to compete in professional golf at the highest level since Harry Truman was president. Reflect on that for a minute.
The Founders’ vision was reinforced and illuminated 50 years ago, when Congress and the President signed into law 37 words of law that changed the landscape for women and girls.
Title IX was not created with sports in mind. It was originally about equality in education, but nowhere has it had a greater impact than in sports.
Today, 57% of college degrees at American colleges and universities are for women.
Today, girls have 3 million more opportunities to compete in sports at the high school level than they did before Title IX.
There are 7 times as many female college athletes today as there were in 1972.
As a former two-sport student-athlete, and later director of athletics at Princeton University, I have seen the impact of Title IX up close, on the faces of young women running across the ice or running across the field. football, or dove into the pool, or stepped on the batter’s box, or smashed it against the tee. And perhaps most importantly, I have seen female athletes use what they learned to become leaders in their communities, schools, boardrooms, and in all facets of life.
That has been my story and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities I have had.
And now more than ever, women’s golf has reached new heights. Our corporate partners understand the value proposition found in women’s sports and, in particular, the LPGA. Because of their commitment, our athletes, who hail from 34 different countries, compete for more money and have more television exposure than at any time in history. In 1972, LPGA players competed for a total of $974,000. This year, they are competing for more than $95 million, including a $2 million first prize in the CME Group Tour Championship.
And the LPGA also has more than 1,800 passionate LPGA professionals who teach and grow the game every day, nearly 15,000 amateur women who enjoy the tremendous benefits of community and competition, and just under 100,000 LPGA participants. *USGA Girls Golf, a program that would do the Founders exceptionally proud. With this unique integrated platform, our athletes have an even greater opportunity to inspire girls and women around the world to achieve their own dreams, on and off the golf course.
But even as we look back at the pioneers behind the passage of Title IX, this is not the time to rest on the successes of the past. We have to look to the next 50 years.
Today, less than 7% of all marketing dollars spent on sports go to women’s sports, even in places like the LPGA, where a straight line can be drawn from every dollar spent to the earnings of our female athletes. While global business leaders continue to present gender equality as a core value, that has yet to translate into enough marketing dollars for women’s sports. The chicken-and-egg argument, that if we had more fans or more TV exposure, we’d have more sponsors, falls apart when you talk to executives who support the LPGA, including some of the most respected international corporate leaders. Those executives will tell anyone that the LPGA’s value equation is extraordinary, not just in terms of profitability, but in living its values.
Imagine the impact it could have if marketing budgets for women’s sports went up to 20 or 25 percent. Our goal is 50 percent, an even split between men’s and women’s sports, but imagine what it would mean to get to 25 percent.
Our athletes are the kindest and most appreciative in sports. Ask anyone who has played on an LPGA Tour, Epson Tour or Ladies European Tour pro-am about the experience and you’ll hear nothing but praise. The extraordinary skill and talent of our players amazes many who see them for the first time. But those of us who see them week after week; those of us who watch them polish for countless hours perfecting their craft; Those of us who witness the moments of heartbreak and tears of joy and celebration know that these best golfers in the world are worth every penny you spend on them and more.
As we celebrate the anniversary of the passage of Title IX, I hope you will join me in stating a fact that is truly not in dispute: This is, indeed, our time. Are you in?