The LPGA is still out there, somewhere. Thailand, actually, as the tour starts a new season well off the beaten path. The quiet hanging over a downsized year has also been broken by some legal action. Jon Show wrote in the Sports Business Journal that the LPGA and International Management Group filed a countersuit in a civil action with the Seoul Broadcasting System, which refused to pay for its final year as the tour’s Korean TV rights-holder.
SBS sued the groups last year when the tour awarded the Korean TV rights to J Golf for 2010. SBS said it had verbal assurance from the LPGA and the former commissioner, Carolyn Bivens, that it could match any other final offer. The LPGA and IMG deny such a clause and declined comment for Show’s story. From the SBJ:
According to court papers, SBS says the LPGA asked for $4.5 million
under terms of a five-year extension that would have begun in 2010. SBS, which paid $2.25 million a year for the rights, was informed by LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens that its $3 million counteroffer was below what she considered market value.
On Jan. 30, 2009, three days before a scheduled meeting between Bivens and SBS President Sang Chun to discuss an extension, the tour informed SBS that it had reached a tentative agreement with J Golf, according to court papers. SBS countered by offering to pay 5 percent on top of the offer from J Golf. Seven days later, J Golf was introduced as the tour’s new Korean rights partner under a five-year deal worth $4.5 million annually from 2010 to 2014. The announcement was made during an LPGA tournament in Hawaii that was sponsored by SBS.
Still wondering why Bivens is out as LPGA commish? (No, you’re not, but play along anyway.) SBS offered to top J Golf’s offer by 5 percent, and she ignored it. That’s not all for the tour, by the way.
The legal action is one of two active multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the LPGA, which was sued for $5 million by Summit Properties over the manner in which Bivens terminated that company’s licensing contract in June 2006. That lawsuit was filed in 2007 and is still in pre-trial proceedings.
The LPGA got another spotlight Tuesday thanks to a USA Today story by Steve DiMeglio examining the tour’s bounce-back to a 25-tournament schedule this year when it appeared it might have as few as 13 events at one point. That’s only two fewer events than 2009 and nine fewer than 2008. DiMeglio got comments from Natalie Gulbis, who has already committed to play all 25 events, about the season.
“When the schedule was released, it was a relief,” Gulbis said. “There was a time last year where every single week we were hearing rumors that another sponsor was dropping out. It wasn’t looking good. There was fear. I’d like to see more domestic tournaments, more tournaments in March and April. We have a lot of weeks off, but that
means we have available spots for the future. It could be a lot worse.”
Gulbis is right… At one time, only 13 locked-up events were on this year’s schedule. But interim commissioner Marty Evans and new Commissioner Michael Whan, who has sold everything from toothpaste to hockey pads, put on their marketing shoes and salvaged the season, which begins Thursday at the Honda PTT LPGA Thailand. In a two-week stretch earlier this year, three new sponsors and two tournaments came on board.
One eye-opening stat from DiMeglio. From now until the State Farm Classic in June, there are nine open weeks. And of the 25 tournaments, only nine are full-field, non-major events in the U.S., “which leaves limited opportunity for players outside of the top 60,” DiMeglio wrote.
The upside is that with only 25 events, there may not be many with weak fields.
“If this is our down year, at least we can show people that the best players — all of them — will be playing nearly everything,” tour player Angela Stanford said. “As a player, you want to beat the best, and that’s what you are going to have to do this year. I can’t see the tour not getting better. It will be hard not to want to be with the LPGA. If this is the worst it’s ever going to be, we’re going to be fine.”