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LPGA Tries for New Fans With Ad Campaign

Ladies Golf Association's First Spots in Four Years Feature Players Natalie Gulbis, I.K. Kim

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Beset by low TV ratings and dwindling sponsors that forced a limited tour schedule this year, the Ladies Professional Golf Association is breaking its first brand campaign in four years to try and lure new fans.

That in itself seems a bit ironic. The LPGA had a former ad executive as its commissioner from 2005 to 2009, yet barely did any advertising. Now that the Tour has parted with Carolyn Bivens, the former president-chief operating officer of Initiative Media North America as its commissioner, it's looking to reinvent itself with a campaign. (Michael Whan is the new LPGA commissioner).

"I really think it's two things at play here. One is to be able to showcase our players better, and two is to communicate how we're different," said LPGA Chief Marketing Officer Jon Podany. "We felt there were some great things about our players and we needed to tell that story better."

Four spots, done by Sacred Cow, Austin, Texas, break this weekend on The Golf Channel's coverage of the season-opening Honda LPGA Thailand tournament. The LPGA filmed a series of four ads at the end of the 2010 season that bring to life how the LPGA is unique. Highlighting the players' approachability and access to fans, the lead ad features Natalie Gulbis and her unique autograph experiences. The second ad features I.K. Kim, who last year graciously donated her entire first-place winnings at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational to charity.

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LPGA: Natalie Gulbis - Autographs

The question is, will the campaign be enough to engage new fans? The LPGA has suffered from the depressed economy the past few years, having shelved at least a half-dozen tournaments since 2008 after sponsors backed out. Just this year, the Tour decided to postpone the Tres Marias Championship in Morelia, Mexico, scheduled for April 21-24, over concerns of increased violence from the drug wars.

Its tour events are split between the U.S. and overseas, which fractures its audience, and the TV ratings have never been considered extraordinary for women's golf. That's not because fans are necessarily ambivalent. The ratings are low, in part because the 10-year deal with The Golf Channel negotiated by Ms. Bivens that started last year doesn't offer enough live coverage. Of the 94 official rounds of golf played on the LPGA Tour in 2010, 38 were shown on tape delay and 11 rounds had no live TV coverage at all. That's more than half the rounds with no live coverage.

"People just aren't interested in watching golf at night unless it's live," said Ken Fang, sports media expert and the owner of the influential website Fang's Bites. "It's going to take a lot to raise the awareness level. I think the ad campaign will help, but if fans can't find their tournaments live they're simply not going to watch."

Greg Johnson, golf writer from the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press, said the ads will help keep the sport top-of-mind and "can't hurt." "They need to get the message out that they don't feel like they're dying," Mr. Johnson said of the LPGA's woes the last couple of years. "Anything that presents a positive attitude will help."

Said Mr. Podnay: "What we're getting at here is approachability. Our golfers have a giving nature, but we don't want to lose sight of the competitiveness of the LPGA."

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