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LPGA ‘walking briskly’ but not running to embrace sports betting

The Ladies Professional Golf Association is keen to embrace legalised sports betting but is not rushing to do so, commissioner Michael Whan has told SportBusiness.

PGA Tour counterpart Jay Monahan last weekend doubled down on his desire to go all-in on gaming, revealing that he is in discussions with betting and daily fantasy operators.

Whan, however, is taking his time in his approach, with a desire to create a product that will lead to meaningful data for betting companies to use.

He adds that there are a number of logistical issues to consider, such as the number of balls in use during early rounds of tournaments and the number of cameras needed to track them.

“The majority of betting right now on sports is happening in Asia and the majority of our interest is from Asia so there’s a lot of tie-ins there,” Whan told SportBusiness. “But we’re not in a rush. I think a lot of people are running to it but we are walking briskly.

“At the first and foremost I want to make sure we are creating data that’s ‘bettable’ data. It’s easy to talk about NBA games having ‘bettable’ data, it’s 70 cameras focusing on one court. We have 70 cameras focusing on six miles of course. There is not one ball in the competition, there’s 144 balls in the air.

“We’ve got to take the time to create something that’s worthy of quality betting. Until we’re there, we’re going to work on the inside of the shop before we run to the outside.

“I know that other people are all worried about who they’re tying up with but we’re a lot more internally focused for the next year or so to make sure what we offer to the marketplace is worthy.”

Nonetheless, Whan believes sports betting will be beneficial for his tour in the long run. “It will bring an audience that we don’t have today, it will bring a global awareness that we don’t have today. It can create an engagement that wasn’t there before,” he adds.

Whan revealed that international broadcast rights are the LPGA’s biggest revenue source: over 170 countries cover the tour. “Our next big horizon in the US is to get a steady diet of network TV,” he said.

“When I joined in 2010 we had one tournament on the networks, now we have seven. If we can get that number to 14 or 15 – about half our events – then we have a chance to introduce our sport to a casual audience that doesn’t get to see us today if they don’t watch the Golf Channel.”

Aon Risk Reward Challenge ‘sends right messages’

Whan was speaking at a media lunch in New York City to promote the Aon Risk Reward Challenge.

The season-long competition will reward a player on both the PGA and LPGA Tours with a $1m (€868,000) prize for having the best average score to par on selected holes at each tournament.

It starts at the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions near Orlando on the par-four 16th hole at Tranquilo Golf Club.

“Like a lot of good partnerships, Aon thought of it and came to us with this idea,” Whan said. “They didn’t just want to do one event they wanted to do something they could build throughout the entire season and the Risk Reward idea built itself out of that.

“We didn’t know that they were having the same conversation with the PGA Tour and I said to them halfway during the discussions that this idea could play through a number of tours and they said, ‘Funny you should bring that up…’

“We’re excited that it’s not just a good idea for our tour but it’s also a good idea for the PGA Tour and it sends the right messages that we’re doing this at the same time and for the same amount of money.”

Whan is bullish about the sponsor interest in the LPGA. “I’m not naive enough to not admit that we don’t have the same delivery viewership as the PGA Tour but a lot of sponsors are still coming to us to say, ‘I understand that but we want to do dot-dot-dot‘.”

Global professional services firm Aon believes the specific format of the Risk Reward Challenge will help create a better understanding of the company as well as gaining publicity for the brand.

“We’re a global firm and we had [golf] activations round the world but we had never really had a formal partnership with either tour. For us the idea of the Aon Risk Reward Challenge is to tell a story of who we are so we can drive a better understanding of our firm,” Aon chief marketing officer Andy Weitz tells us.

“We have done really high-profile global partnerships, with Manchester United for example, which gave us great brand exposure and a lot of awareness of our firm but we realised that we wanted to drive a better understanding of who we were and we saw an opportunity with this programme to intuitively explain who we are.

“We view it as an opportunity to create content more than anything else. We’ll be integrated into the broadcast and we’ll be creating weekly vignettes that we will be pushing through social media – our own channels and both tours –  to audiences so they better understand who we are and see that parallel.”