LPGA Brand Advisory

The Marketing Doctor says:
The LPGA Is Making A Big Mistake

I can read some other languages, but I can only speak English.  And if you told me that I had to be able to speak another language by 2009 (less than six months away), I’d answer: Fuggedaboutit.

So I was shocked to learn that the LPGA has warned its members that they must “become conversant in English by 2009 or face suspension.”  Here’s the article.

On the surface there seem to be “market savvy” reasons for this.  According to Libba Galloway, the deputy commissioner of the tour: “We live in a sports entertainment environment…For an athlete to be successful in the sports entertainment world we live in, they need to be great performers on and off the course, and being able to communicate effectively with sponsors and fans is a big part of this.”

What’s next: mandatory stand-up comedy courses for the athletes? 

This is a great example of an organization missing the marketing forest for the trees.  First, to tie excellence in a sport to language ability is provincial, short-sighted and against the very point of sports. 

Didn’t we just get past the Olympics where we were reminded that somehow we are all united by the universality of the playing field, the track and the swimming pool? 

Sure, the LPGA is right to think of their target market and their sponsors —mainly North American and English-speaking.  But this move will hurt the image of LPGA by making the organization look punitive and small-minded.
No one.  Not the NBA, MBA or NHL has made this kind of demand of its players —their players have consistently demanded this of themselves anyway.  Look at Yao Min and others.  They understand or are quickly taught by the marketing reality that they have to acquire some English.

Let personal brands take care of themselves.  This is different than the NBA demanding certain attire from its players.  That was an organizational decision that was about reflecting certain shared standards of that brand —we don’t get upset that players have to wear uniforms.  

This is an attempt by the LPGA to control personal brands and to, in effect, say that individual athletes are just commodities that can be shaped to fit the organization which always knows best. 

My advice to the LPGA is to stand down immediately.  It might be embarrassing in the short run to admit a mistake, but it will help the brand long-term.  Galloway is right about “sports-entertainment” but its “sports” that comes first in the LPGA brand.  Golf is the core brand feature.  How players present themselves —and this includes how well or how badly they speak— is a related feature.  And in marketing you never let the related feature drive decisions about the core feature.  End of story.

Fact is, everyone knows that there is a strong entertainment component to sports and sports marketing, but no one would be interested in the entertainment or the personalities if it wasn’t for the sport. 

What will they do if the best LPGA player to come along in the future is a mute?  Let golf talent be the issue.

And remember, it’s always easier when you keep branding in mind.


Branding isn’t an exact science. Sometimes what looks like the right thing for your brand can have terrible consequences because core brand features are being sacrificed for related features.


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  • 8/30/2008 9:00 PM Next Gen Politics wrote:
    I'm not sure how they are getting away with this. A lot of the new talent in women's golf is coming from Asia, and while many of them may speak English, requiring it seems protectionist and xenophobic. I agree with you, they really need to rethink this. If we limit the language of players aren't we also limiting the number of, perhaps, phenoms we may bring to the table? Just a thought. Anyway, great post. I added you to my reader, and I hope to see more great posts from you in the future. I hope you'll visit our site again for your Politics fix. Have a great week.
    Jerame Clough
    -Next Gen Politics
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  • 9/4/2008 9:45 PM Doreen wrote:
    Interesting take ... but you meant the NBA's Yao Ming, right?
    Reply to this

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