NAPLES, Fla. – Mollie Marcoux Samaan calls this a period of transformational growth for women’s golf. Prize funds have grown nearly 70 percent since 2021, with a record $118 million on the line in 2024.
Media rights revenue is up 25 percent since 2021, and corporate partnership money is up 33 percent. The LPGA has invested heavily in its team, adding 18 percent more staff over the past year.
In 2024, the LPGA will offer the highest first-place prize in all of women’s sports: $4 million to the winner of the CME Group Tour Championship.
And while the majors and CME have been mostly responsible for the tour’s financial growth in recent years, the 2024 schedule will have 10 regular-season events with a purse of $3 million, up from only one two years ago.
“We’re aspiring to be, I would call it, the most successful mission-driven global sports and entertainment brand in the world,” said Marcoux Samaan in her annual state of the tour press conference, “and we’re excited to be able to do that.”
Here are five key takeaways from Marcoux Samaan’s time on Thursday with the press:
It’s hard to believe, but the LPGA recently put together its first marketing department. Led by Krista Olson, the three-person team’s objective is to grow exposure for the tour.
“We’re going to drive fans to our tournaments,” said Marcoux Samaan, “and we’re going to drive fans to our media, all forms of media, social media, digital media; we’re driving them to our television broadcasts.”
While the atmosphere at a Solheim Cup is generally great, it’s no secret that attendance at many events on the LPGA schedule could use a substantial boost.
The tour recently partnered with SeatGeek to create a single-source ticketing platform for tour events. The marketing department’s task is to help sell more tickets.
“That is 100 percent our focus, I think, with our marketing department, with our SeatGeek partnership,” Marcoux Samaan said. “To be able to drive fan engagement and to actually proactively work on that, to be able to know who our fans are, keep marketing to them, go into regions and use our SeatGeek partnership as well as our marketing team’s creativity to drive people to the tournaments. Because I think when you turn on the broadcast, you want to see that people are there and cheering on our athletes.”
One of the biggest gripes about the 2023 schedule was the flow – or lack thereof. Players crisscrossed the country and the globe at an exhausting rate.
Next year’s schedule makes a lot more sense logistically as tour officials worked to clump events together geographically. They also paid heed to where they added breaks. Adding a week off in between the Dow team event in Midland, Michigan, and the Amundi Evian in France, for example, was important.
The Paris Olympics required some temporary summer shuffling.
“We’re thrilled with where we are this year,” said Marcoux Samaan of the finished product.
There’s been an emphasis of late on how to retain talent on the LPGA, focusing on areas like financial security and mental health.
Nineteen of the LPGA’s 33 official events next year will offer some kind of minimum payouts to players who miss the cut. All five LPGA majors offered missed cut money in 2023.
At non-majors, Marcoux Samaan said the average stipend will be $2,000.
In addition, the LPGA substantially increased its health insurance stipend, up from $1,850 in 2022 to $3,000 in 2023, with the commissioner adding that they’re working toward being able to provide health insurance for all players.
The LPGA also covers an international healthcare plan for when players and caddies travel abroad for tour-sanctioned events.
To address rising mental health concerns, the tour hired sports psychologist, Julie Amato, who travels to tournaments and also meets with players during off-weeks.
Today’s LPGA stars struggle to break into the general sports landscape in the U.S., let alone mainstream media. A player like Ariya Jutanugarn is a household name in Thailand, but one would be hard-pressed to find many non-sports fans in America who can name a current LPGA player.
To help build the individual brands of its players, the LPGA has partnered with Naomi Osaka’s new production company Hana Kuma.
The tour will focus on the brands of six to eight impactful players with Hana Kuma, Marcoux Samaan said, but will offer tour-wide training.
“I think we all know that people follow people rather than organizations,” said Marcoux Samaan, “and so we want the world, as I said from the very beginning, to understand our players, know who they are.”
Next week at the LET’s season finale in Spain, players will vote on whether or not to fully merge with the LPGA.
The two tours have been in a joint venture since 2019, but a merge would bring the LET under the LPGA’s umbrella and offer a pathway – LPGA tour cards – for top LET players.
“I think in 2019, the LET was playing for £11 million,” said Marcoux Samaan. “I think in 2023, they’re playing for over £30 million. They had less than 20 events; they now have more than 30 events.
“So the idea was we’re building women’s golf in a collaborative, cohesive, unfractured way all over the world, and being able to make sure that every — the best women in the world from wherever you come from have a place to play and clear pathways to whatever your goals are.”