Since last summer when I was humbled and honored to be chosen as the ninth commissioner of the LPGA, I have, in conversations with our team, our players, our sponsors and our fans, used the phrase, “This is our time.” That is not a new tagline or a 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 we are experiencing, not just at the LPGA but in all of women’s sports.
Our time didn’t come by accident. We have 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. Because of the vision of our remarkable Founders, women have been able to compete in professional golf at the highest level since Harry Truman was president. Ponder that for a minute.
The Founders’ vision was bolstered and brightened 50 years ago, when Congress and the President signed into law 37 words 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 bigger impact than in sports.
Today, 57% of the undergraduate degrees at American colleges and universities go to women.
Today, girls have 3 million more opportunities to compete in sports at the high school level than before Title IX.
Today, there are 7 times more female collegiate athletes than in 1972.
As a former two-sport student-athlete, and later the athletics director at Princeton University, I have seen the impact of Title IX up close, in the faces of the young women who charged down the ice, or sprinted down the soccer field, or dove into the pool, or stepped into the batter’s box, or crushed it off the tee. And perhaps most importantly, I have seen female athletes use what they’ve learned to become leaders in their communities, in schools, in board rooms and in all faces of life
That has been my story and I could not 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, are competing 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 over $95 million, including a $2million first prize at 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, close to 15,000 women amateurs enjoying the enormous benefits of community and competition and just under 100,000 participants in LPGA*USGA Girls Golf, a program that would make the Founders exceptionally proud. With this uniquely integrated platform, our athletes have an even greater opportunity to inspire girls and women around the globe to reach their own dreams – on and off the golf course.
But even as we look back on the pioneers behind the passage of Title IX, this is no time to rest of past successes. We have to look ahead to the next 50 years.
Today, fewer than 7% of the total marketing dollars spent on sports going to women’s sports, even in places like the LPGA where a straight line can be drawn from every dollar invested to the earnings of our athletes. While leaders of global companies continue to present gender equality as a core value, that hasn’t yet translated into enough marketing dollars for women’s sports. The chicken-and-egg argument, that if we had more fans or more television exposure, we would get more sponsors, falls flat when you talk to executives supporting the LPGA, who include some of the international corporate world’s most respected leaders. Those executives will tell anyone that the value equation for the LPGA is extraordinary, not just in terms of payoff, but in living their values.
Imagine the impact that could be made 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 just imagine what getting to 25% would mean.
Our athletes are the most gracious and grateful in sports. Ask anyone who has played in an LPGA Tour, Epson Tour or Ladies European Tour pro-am about the experience and you will hear nothing but gushing praise. The extraordinary skill and talent of our players surprises many who see them for the first time. But those of us who see them week in and week out; those of us who watch them grind for countless hours perfecting their craft; Those of us who witness the moments of anguish and the tears of joy and celebration know that these best golfers in the world are worth every penny you spend on them and so much more.
As we celebrate the anniversary of the passage of Title IX, I hope you will join me in affirming a fact that is not really in dispute: This is, indeed, our time. Are you in?