There’s more to the new Aon Risk Reward Challenge than meets the eye.
Details of the competition were announced Wednesday.
Aon is adding to the momentum LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is starting to build in his quest to narrow the gender pay gap that so severely separates women from men in sport.
Aon is promoting inclusion while investing in what Whan hopes will become a movement in the game.
The company could have instituted its new season-long risk-reward competition for the PGA Tour alone, could have established the $1 million winner’s prize for men only. The men, after all, sell more tickets, draw more TV viewers and get more media coverage.
Aon stepped up, though, and offered the exact same deal for LPGA pros.
“It’s just a powerful message,” Whan told GolfChannel.com. “We’re starting to see a series of pillar moments, where we are starting to create the kind of equality you see happening every day within companies that are sponsors.”
Aon’s Risk Reward Challenge comes on the heels of CME Group’s announcement it will offer a $1.5 million first-place check to the winner of its LPGA event next year, a payout greater than the winner’s check in 33 of the PGA Tour’s 47 events. It comes with the LPGA’s sanctioning of the Vic Open next month, a co-sanctioned European Tour event that will offer equal prize money to men and women playing the same venue at the same time.
“We have work to do at the LPGA, to make sure we are delivering equal viewership and equal benefits and everything else,” Whan said. “I’m the first guy to admit we aren’t there, but when companies step up and make this kind of statement, it’s not only good for the game and my athletes, it’s good for the future of girls who are watching us and dreaming about this.”
Through the year, LPGA and PGA Tour pros will compete to see who can best play the most strategically challenging holes across their schedules. The player on each tour who navigates the designated risk-reward holes with the best cumulative score will take home $1 million at season’s end.
The LPGA gets started in next week’s season opener at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in Orlando, Fla.. The 16th hole at Tranquilo Golf Club, a par 4, will be designated as the risk-reward challenge. A player’s best two scores on that hole during the week will count.
Aon is a professional services company that provides risk, retirement and health consulting.
Andy Weitz, the company’s chief marketing officer, said including the LPGA was vital.
“Diversity and inclusion is really important to our firm,” Weitz told GolfChannel.com. “It’s fundamental to our values. So when we developed this concept, it was fundamental to have a program that would run across the men’s and women’s tours, that we would offer equal prizes. It just made sense to our firm.”
Not a single woman in any sport ranked among the Forbes’ list of the top 100 paid athletes in the world last year.
LPGA pros are playing for a record $70 million in official prize money this season, but the PGA Tour is playing for more than $340 million.
Whan isn’t aiming to catch the PGA Tour any time soon, but he’s aiming to make the dream of playing the LPGA more fairly rewarding for women who reach it.
The LPGA, under Whan, is becoming about more than competition and purses. KPMG, ANA and Aberdeen Asset Management are among title sponsors who put on women’s empowerment summits during their events.
Whan credits his corporate partners for building momentum in the quest to narrow the gender pay gap.
“It’s not Mike Whan and the LPGA pitching these ideas,” Whan said. “It’s just the opposite. CME’s Terry Duffy called me with the idea of a $1.5 million first-place check. The Vic Open started its process well before calling us. Same thing with Aon.”
That’s typical Whan, deflecting, but the game-changing “Role Reversal” philosophy he brought to the tour has turned the LPGA into a more desirable partner. That philosophy was all about changing the tour’s focus to be as much about serving check writers as it is about tournament operations.
Whan made the LPGA a much more attractive destination for title sponsors looking to deliver their messages than it was when he first took over 10 years ago, when it was foundering and alienating sponsors.
“When I look at the sponsors joining us, the overwhelming majority have joined the LPGA not just because we are a good tour, or because we are good hospitality or because of media and TV ratings,” Whan said. “As one sponsor told me, we are a living, breathing example of diversity and inclusion and women’s empowerment.
“It’s embarrassing to admit, but companies probably saw what we bring to the party before we did. They saw how they could use the LPGA to not only share our story but to share theirs, too.”
Whan’s servanthood style leadership set the table for Aon and other sponsors. He likes to say he needs partners smarter than he is to lift the tour, but his IQ is apparent in the strategy he devised to make the LPGA a better vehicle for delivering empowerment messages.
Aon is the latest example of a large corporation seeing that.