LPGA Players Blame Commissioner as Sponsors Drop Out

Letter to Board of Directors Calls for Carolyn Bivens to Resign

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Carolyn Bivens, hired in 2005 to be the first female commissioner of the LPGA Tour in part because of her marketing and advertising background as president-chief operating officer at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media North America, is under fire from players as sponsors bail out of the sport.

Carolyn Bivens
Carolyn Bivens
Golfweek magazine reported yesterday that more than a dozen players have signed a letter to the LPGA Tour's board of directors asking that Ms. Bivens resign immediately. According to the story, several players, including stars Lorena Ochoa, Natalie Gulbis, Christie Kerr and Paula Creamer met last week while at the Jamie Farr Classic in Toledo, Ohio. The players have been stung by the losses of seven tour events since 2007 due to lack of sponsorship, including the Kapalua LPGA Classic in Hawaii, which was scheduled for October, but news came last week that it will not be held because there is no title sponsor.

The players' position is that the poor economy can't be the only factor in the loss of sponsors, even though virtually every sports league has been affected. The NFL and the NBA had layoffs, and the Arena Football League shut down its 2009 season due to the economy.

In addition to the seven lost events, six other LPGA tournaments this year are without sponsors. According to Golfweek, the players were told that only 10 tournament sponsor contracts out of 27 events have been signed for the 2010 season. Contracts are expiring for such notable events as the Wegman's LPGA event in Pittsford, N.Y., the Corning Classic in Corning, N.Y., and the 25-year old Jamie Farr Classic, hosted by the former actor on the TV series "MASH."

Ms. Bivens could not be reached for comment, but LPGA Chief Communications Officer David Higdon released this statement to Advertising Age:

"This is an important week for the players and the LPGA, and we're focused first and foremost on the U.S. Women's Open [which will begin on Thursday]. The LPGA players, staff and board all care deeply about our tour, and we're all working hard to achieve the same long-term objective to grow our tour. It's not in the best interest of women's golf to openly discuss internal matters, but you can rest assured that the LPGA and its board of directors consider any topic raised by the players seriously since we are a player organization. There are always differences of opinion on business matters, and as they arise, we resolve them as best we can in order to further the business of the LPGA."

Ms. Bivens has two years remaining on her contract. Executives close to the LPGA Tour said her salary is about $600,000 a year. Of the 13 members of the LPGA Tour board of directors, seven are players.

Already several names are being floated as possible successors to Ms. Bivens, including Cindy Davis, the president of Nike Golf, and Donna Orender, president of the WNBA.

Ms. Bivens' tenure has been marked by dubious decision making. In spite of her background in media, she immediately set off a firestorm in her first full season on the job when she instituted a policy that all stories and photos regarding the LPGA Tour first go through her office. The policy was rescinded within 24 hours after the Associated Press refused to staff the first round of the season opening event of 2005.

In a weekly e-mail roundtable, Sports Illustrated senior writers Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle addressed the problems, saying:

"It's clear Bivens's hard-charging personal style has rubbed a lot of players and corporate types the wrong way, but you can't fault her original vision: raise purses, improve the pension and retirement benefits, and expand the tour's TV presence. The problem seems to be that Bivens has stuck to her hard-line negotiating even as the economy has imploded. Sponsors are hard-pressed to maintain their current commitments, and she's asking for them to pour in more money for next year and beyond. ... Sponsors are dropping like autumn leaves. She didn't cause this problem, but her tactics made the problem worse, and quicker."

In an interview with Advertising Age the day she was named commissioner-elect in 2005, Ms. Bivens said her time at Initiative would help her in her new role. "Looking back in the rearview mirror, I feel like my previous 25 years' experience (has) prepared me for this job. This comes at the right time in my career. The fact that I work, and have worked, with all media forms with networks and publishers across a variety of platforms will benefit me," she said.

She added that her marketing efforts would "build on the momentum this organization has. It doesn't need to be fixed. It's not a turnaround. It's hot. It has a wide variety of personalities who are not only great golfers but interesting people as well."

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