Last week’s LPGA Lotte Championship in Hawaii might prove to be a groundbreaking event.
While the atypical Wednesday-Saturday schedule may not become typical anytime soon, the tour is exploring the possibility of alternate scheduling more often in the future.
“Conceptually, we like it,” Jon Podany, the LPGA’s chief marketing officer, said before seeing final Golf Channel TV ratings. “It gave us a feature telecast on Wednesday night when we were totally on our own and not competing against any other tours. We certainly like that spotlight telecast on a Wednesday night, and we’ll see if our fans kind of figured out that we were finishing on Saturday and if we get the kind of final-round numbers we usually get on a Sunday. If we do, if we don’t see a drop off, then it’s a formula that works pretty well, particularly in Hawaii, and possibly for some other events as we look to the future.”
Golf Channel data shows the Lotte’s final round was watched by more viewers this year than any LPGA event outside the year’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Overall, Lotte delivered the fourth best average viewership of an LPGA event over the past three years. The Lotte Championship is also one of only nine LPGA events in the last five years to deliver an average of more than 400,000 viewers over each of the final two rounds.
Podany said the tour wouldn’t want alternate scheduling every week, but it is discussing possible future opportunities with Golf Channel. Podany said the LPGA has been exploring possible Monday finishes with the network.
“We haven’t gone there yet, that’s a little more operationally difficult for tournaments, in terms of volunteers and title sponsors having their guests there on Monday and so forth, but I don’t think the Saturday finish presents the same kind of challenges,” Podany said. “I think it’s something we would consider if there were other tournaments interested.”
Lotte provided a unique and ideal opportunity for a Wednesday-Saturday finish that isn’t always available. The Nationwide Tour was idle that weekend. Playing in Hawaii allowed a prime-time U.S. East Coast finish while also allowing the tour's Korean and Japanese TV partners to have a rare live Sunday finish in those countries.
Lotte is one of the largest food and shopping conglomerates in South Korea and Japan. The live Sunday finish in Asia was important to Lotte and the tour’s Asian TV partners.
“It’s critically important, particularly in Korea and Japan, and particularly when you had a leaderboard like we had where [Japan’s] Ai Miyazato ends up winning,” Podany said. “Our Korean and Japanese television rights are by far the highest revenue generating agreements that we have at the LPGA.”It was more motivation for the LPGA to explore alternate tournament scheduling.