The LPGA has been hot for a while, but it’s especially on fire nowadays.
Before outlining why, here’s a quick commercial:
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Back to the big leagues. LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan just signed a long-term contract extension after nine years of turning a heavily challenged brand into a women’s sports powerhouse.
During that reign, our agency partnered with the LPGA in PR and marketing capacities. As much as Mike is a stout businessman, he’s an even more thoughtful human being. Not to mention a keen sense of humor evidenced by his introducing me as “Kitty Katz” prior to serving on a panel at an LPGA Sponsor Summit. It hit a child-like chord.
The Tour climbed from 24 tournaments and $41.4 million in prize money in 2010 to 32 events and $70.2 million in 2019. Back then, one tournament purse exceeded $3M and now there’s five, including the CME Group Tour Championship at a record-high $5M.
When the LPGA shared with me in 2013 its intent to create The International Crown, pitting eight qualifying countries of four-player teams in match play, I went numb. Can it be pulled off? It did and then some. That’s Mike, although he’s forever quick to shift credit to the LPGA team.
We all know that without universal buy-in from players, TV networks, venues and sponsors, there is no tour. Check all four boxes with aplomb. Players are proud, positive and accessible more than ever. Sponsors are renewing at a super-high rate and benefiting charities are ecstatic. Venues love the fun when it comes to their towns. It’ll be interesting to see what groundbreaking TV deal Mike has up his sleeve come 2021.
All this is good for the game and women’s sports at large. Make that great for the game and women’s sports at large. Enough said.
As if you couldn’t surmise from his dossier below, Chris Walling was born with a cheesesteak in hand. Yes, he’s a proud Philadelphia guy and, unrelated, a very solid golfer. Calm to the extreme, Chris smoothly manages PR and marketing programs for several big golf tournaments in Buffalo’s client portfolio. A self-proclaimed golf-tech geek, he meticulously directed re-launch activities for K-MOTION (formerly K-Vest) to a new generation of golfers.
- Favorite holiday tradition – Family golf tournament the day after Thanksgiving. We drove to southern Delaware one year to find a course that wasn’t frozen.
- Beloved sports teams – Eagles, Sixers, Phillies, Flyers. I don’t believe in second favorites.
- The best of Buffalo – The U.S. Open at Pebble Beach is definitely up there for a business trip. Incredible place that lives up to the hype. We also hung out in The Tap Room after the final round where Gary, Jordan, JT and others were celebrating. We are all GREAT friends now.
- S. Open on my mind – 2008. Guy won on a broken leg!
- Happy wife, happy life – Truer words have never been spoken.
- Best business advice – Never burn a bridge. You never know when you will cross paths again.
- Fantasy foursome – Rory, Jordan and my brother. I wonder how many shots they’d have to give us.
- Why marketing – I enjoy the freedom to think creatively every day. There is rarely only one answer to a marketing problem.
- Last movie watched – Ford v. Ferrari. It’s a true underdog story.
- Perspective on life – Figure out what you care about. Don’t let the rest bother you.
- Top five golf courses – Gulph Mills GC (King of Prussia, PA), Northeast Harbor GC (Northeast Harbor, ME), Shinnecock Hills GC (Southampton, NY), Yeamans Hall CC (Charleston, SC), Pine Valley GC (Pine Valley, NJ).
- If I could change the world – I would!
- Take on Philly sports – It’s torture. Makes me way too angry.
- Technology in golf – I’m all for it as along as it doesn’t become invasive during the round.
- Dream vacation spot – Bermuda. Spectacular beaches and a quick plane ride.
- Cake, donut or cookie – Cookies offer better options. Donuts are overrated.
- Brands I admire – Callaway, Nike, All Birds. Impressed with those which become bigger than just the products they sell.
- My Google alerts – K-MOTION, K-Vest, biofeedback, Kolter Homes, PGA Village Verano, U.S. Women’s Open. Too many to complete the list.
- Big ideas – Those are a secret for now.
- What’s in the bag – Callaway vs. Titleist. A mix up and down the bag. Also, Bushnell rangefinder, blue Sharpie, Links & Kings glove holder and two koozies.
- Parting wisdom – Don’t be scared to ask for help.
How does a brand own a customer?
In the case of Nike nowadays, it’s not by focusing on doling millions upon millions of customers to retailers when sales through its digital platforms mean double margins. That’s why its relationship with Amazon is discontinued.
Nike data scientists did the math. The numbers show a meaningful percentage of sales via third parties was greater than the customer lifetime value of sales at Nike-owned channels. Besides, today’s hurry-up lives and ubiquitous hand-held technology render shopping mall excursions infrequent. Go right to the manufacturer.
So, Nike marketers flipped the control switch. Instead of an all-sales-are-good-sales mentality, the more strategic approach now lies in a predominantly consumer-direct offense. Building unbreakable one-on-one relationships with customers is Job No. 1.
Central to the evolution is a digital-genius team in Nike’s new 24,000-square-foot “studio” in Manhattan. Its focus is to build Nike communities one fan and customer at a time.
Amazing online experiences mirror the brand’s athletic purpose. Content and conversations around sports and wellness are shaped to individuals’ unique interests, locales, product preferences and other attributes. Customers appreciate the efficiencies of personalization, be it athletic and lifestyle stories, athletic tips, style suggestions, contests or e-sports at a known communications cadence to their desires. And they’re often grouped with like-minded Nike customers for socialization. In turn, Nike products are bought with greater regularity.
To wit, Nike digital sales grew 42% in the first quarter of the fiscal year.
Brands don’t have to be the size of Nike to plan and execute this strategy. They only need to onboard in-house or outsource to a small team of data scientists to analyze customer bases. This way, marketers could tailor campaigns to buyers’ emotions.
Our Buffalo data team provides this sophisticated service to companies with revenues, staffs and databases of all sizes. Marketing is no longer a game that’s, first and foremost, ruled by awareness.
In my book, having a “bucket list of golf courses” is as overused as it is appropriate. The preference here is “where I must play before I die.” Morbid, yes. But life is short.
My first flight would be in the direction of Kohler, Wisconsin. Like most sharp golfers, I’m a Pete Dye fan. And just about an hour north of Milwaukee and 2-1/2 hours from Chicago is a quartet of to-die-for layouts by the legend himself under the Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run banners. It’s a small, quaint town, but big in destination golf.
I recommend you play before they host the 2020 Ryder Cup next September. After watching the competition on Whistling Straits’ magnificent layout, Destination Kohler may be more in demand than a winning lottery ticket.
Post-round adrenaline is further boosted by a stay at The Kohler Co’s The American Club, the first and only Forbes Five-Star hotel in the Midwest. Comfortable luxury is an understatement.
Last time I visited, one mid-August, it was on official client business as our Buffalo team manages golf PR for Kohler. A group of 12 was having a blast. Grinning from ear to ear in the hotel lobby, one participant told me it was a corporate entertainment shindig of a lifetime. An eight-some in the bar that’s played most of Golf Digest’s Top 100 courses raved about its “best buddy trip ever.” I overheard a husband and wife making reservations to return while checking out.
Dirk Willis oversees golf at Destination Kohler. He’s a pro’s pro. He worked his way up from an entry level position there. And every time he speaks about guest experiences, you could see his eyes well up with pride. Call it famous Midwest hospitality, call it downright, fantastic golf.
Live it up while you can. Bee line it to Kohler.
This will be my 28th PGA Merchandise Show. Or maybe 29th. I lost count. No matter, it remains the most exciting event of my year.
At Buffalo’s birth, it was only me attending the golf’s industry’s annual rite of passage in Orlando.
How times have changed, and jobs well done have sparked our organic company growth.
This year, we plan to bring more than 25 Buffalos to the show in late January. Our mandate there, as it is year-round, is to connect brands and buyers.
Our responsibilities include managing clients’ social media accounts, escorting merchandisers and media to touch and feel products at booths, addressing sales representatives about clients’ marketing activities and strengthening relationships with industry leaders.
The hallmark of optimizing trade show participation is hustling like crazy in strategically, well-planned ways. With more than 40,000 golf-industry professionals, most with open-to-buy desires, clients have a lot at stake. Our Buffalos are passionate extensions of their leadership and marketing teams.
After all, for many companies, this is the one time of year the industry congregates. Their investments in booths, parties, travel and entertainment is in the tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. If we don’t treat their money like our very own, everyone misses out on opportunities to interact with people who could represent life-changing revenue. I’ve seen it happen several times from Buffalo-brokered introductions.
That’s it for now. Let’s schedule a time to connect at the Super Bowl of the golf business.