Wednesday, August 27, 2008

LPGA Panics; Looks to Rosetta Stone

The LPGA announced that it will be require its players to learn English or they will face suspension from the tour. The rule applies to LPGA members who have been on tour for two years, and a first round of evaluations will be conducted at the conclusion of the 2009 season.

This mandate seems to be aimed at the South Koreans, who have become a dominant force on the LPGA in numbers (45 of 121 international players) and competitively. In a 5-week span this summer, the winners of LPGA tourneys were Seon Hwa Lee, Yani Tseng, Eun-Hee Ji, Inbee Park (US Open), and Seon Hwa Lee again.

Hilary Lunke, president of the Player Executive Committee, summed it up,
“The bottom line is, we don’t have a job if we don’t entertain. In my mind, that’s as big a part of the job as shooting under par.”
The LPGA is looking to its stars to cater to sponsors, communicate with the media, and appeal to the general English-speaking public. Is this an unreasonable thing to ask?

Pro golfers probably interact with 'outsiders' more than in any other sport. During the week of an event, they are called on to play in Pro-Ams with corporate sponsors, give clinics to fans, and attend other functions. During the tournament, pros and fans share air. In what other sport do so many fans have such close access to the athletes? Because of all this, I can see why speaking the language of your fans and your sponsors is even more important in golf than in other sports.

Beyond that, it's not a coincidence that this is happening simultaneously with the retirement of the LPGA's media darling (Annika Sorenstam). Who is going to fill her shoes as the face of women's golf? I can assure you it's not going to be somebody with a translator.

Could the LPGA have taken this issue on without a press release? You better believe it. Professional athletes in all sports have speaking coaches to help them with interviews and other public appearances. The LPGA could have done this behind closed doors but instead decided to make it a public debate. They had to know it would create a whirlwind of media coverage. Hmmm...not such a terrible thing for a league looking for some coverage.

The LPGA has to be careful not to alienate their athletes. They need to be sure not to piss off sponsors, who might not like the negative press that this story generates. But, my sense is they know exactly what they are doing and have already prepared their partners for this news.

What do you think? Will this bold move pay off for the LPGA?

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