Earlier this month, the USGA announced ProMedica would become the first presenting sponsor of the U.S. Women’s Open. As part of the “purpose-driven” tie-up, the governing body increased the event’s purse from $5.5 million to $10 million (bettering the previous women’s tour high of $5.8 million). The USGA said it plans to bump the payout again, to $12 million, by 2027.
The announcement of record-setting prize money has become somewhat of a common occurrence in women’s golf over the last few years, as marquee brands trickling into the sport have looked to outdo one another. But Shawn Quill (National Sports Industry Leader, KPMG) called the first eight-figure prize pool in tour history a “quantum leap forward” and wondered if the ProMedica deal would be the “tipping point for women’s golf—or women’s sports overall—in terms of the investments that they get.”
JWS’ Take: Quill called USGA CEO (and former LPGA commissioner) Mike Whan’s decision to nearly double the tournament purse “bold,” because “the financials alone don’t support it.” But as Whan explained, the organization thinks “less about, ‘Is this a sound financial decision?’ And more about, ‘Is this a sound mission decision?’”
He happens to think it is a sound long-term financial decision, too. Whan said collectively elevating tour events—in terms of prize money at stake, the courses they’re played on (see: the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open at historic Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club) and media coverage—will ultimately improve the economics around them. “Both in my previous job and my current role, I can stand here and definitively tell you that this strategy has worked over the past decade, and we are only going to see the game take larger steps in the coming years,” he said.
Back in 2019, Statista reported just seven cents of every dollar spent on sports sponsorship was allocated to the women’s game. While that sounds low, it represents progress from a decade ago. Women in Sport research indicated women’s sports sponsorships accounted for just .4% of the total sports sponsorship spend between 2011 and 2013.
Quill thinks the ProMedica sponsorship and the USGA’s move to bring the U.S. Women’s Open purse up to eight figures (and nearly in line with the $12.5 million the men compete for) could be the catalyst that finally leads to a closing of the gap between the sponsorship dollars spent on men’s and women’s sports. “Such an investment signals how women’s golf is valued—by the organizing bodies, sponsors, media networks and fans,” he said.
The timing is also right for sponsors to give women’s golf a try. “The world is changing in a short period of time,” LeslieAnne Wade (co-founder, White Tee Partners) said. “Many companies have D/I initiatives reflecting a changing landscape. Large, global companies have D/I officers. It’s not simply a moment; it’s a movement.”
Female golf participation (see: 500,000 new players picked up the game during the first nine months of the pandemic) and viewership is also on an upward trajectory. “TV ratings and fan engagement at the LPGA is growing faster than any men’s sport,” Quill said.
While men’s golf and many other sports still draw significantly larger audiences, Wade argues the evolving media landscape makes the number of people tuning in on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon less critical to advertisers than it once was. Brands “can reach people on different platforms today than you could [historically]” and do it in a more targeted manner, she said.
KPMG was among the first marquee brands to invest in women’s golf. Back in 2014, the firm aligned with the LPGA and the PGA of America to elevate one of the LPGA’s majors: the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The event’s $3.5 million purse in 2015 (which was a 50% YoY increase), caught the competing tournaments’ attention. “Since then, there has been a bit of an arms race in terms of trying to elevate women’s golf,” Quill said. Purses have risen from $56 million in 2014 to $84 million in 2022.
In addition to KPMG, AIG, DOW, AON, Chevron and Cognizant have all signed on or increased their investment in the sport over the last seven years. That is despite the traditional marketing metrics (think: TV ratings, brand impressions) not warranting the commitments.
For KPMG (and many of the others), it has never been about eyeballs, though. The company’s commitment to women’s golf has largely been about putting their money where their messaging is, as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. Quill explained: “As a firm, we’re saying that women should have the same opportunities as the men do. That’s how we treat our people, and we took the intentional action to reflect that in our sponsorships as well.”
The majority of KPMG’s sponsorship spend is now dedicated to women’s sports. In addition to its sponsorship of the Women’s PGA Championship, and the women’s leadership conference it puts on around the event, the firm sponsors three female players. By comparison, it sponsors just two players on the men’s side (one is Phil Mickelson).
The KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit, held on the Wednesday prior to the Women’s PGA Championship, is a gathering of about 300 women, each nominated by a Fortune 500 CEO as likely to be named the CEO or CFO of a Fortune 1000 company within the next five to 10 years. “They come to the conference for free. It is a one-day event. And they get plugged into this network of other senior executive women. Our goal is [to help] more of them to reach the C-Suite,” Quill said.
Altruistic motives aside, KPMG also understands that the increased emphasis on corporate DEI initiatives and diversity hiring has led, and will continue to lead, to more women in C-suite positions. Its hope is as Summit attendees ascend the corporate ladder, they recognize KPMG’s early commitment to DEI and elect to become buyers of the firm’s services. “More and more of these women are becoming executives, and they know us rather than, say, our competitors,” Quill said.
The relationship-based approach has been “hugely successful” for KPMG, Quill said. Some 20% of women who have attended a KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit within the past five years have since been promoted to a C-suite role.