Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
The 13 founders of the LPGA Tour can be proud this week.
It goes beyond the tournament named in their honor, in which nine of the top 10 players in the world rankings for women take part. It’s not just played in Mountain Ridge, a Donald Ross design in northern New Jersey, where a third of the rounds are played by women.
The prize pool is $ 3 million, the largest of any regular LPGA event, surpassed only by the five majors and the CME Group Tour Championship at the end of the season.
The real progress is in how the Cognizant Founders Cup has been brought to life.
Cognizant, a multinational tech company headquartered in Teaneck, New Jersey, wanted to promote its brand and through research found that golf and its global appeal were a perfect match.
So it invested – in men and women.
“Our goal was to invest in world-class athletes,” said Gaurav Chand, Cognizant’s chief marketing officer. “One reason we chose golf was because there are incredible, viable male and female athletes. To be honest, I get this question a lot. Why the LPGA? Why the founder’s cup?
“What we are trying to do in technology is to increase diversity, to create a level playing field for all genders, all races and all religions,” he said. “That is essentially the goal of the (LPGA) founders.”
It joins a slowly growing list of top companies offering equal opportunity and sometimes equal pay in golf sponsorship.
Aon built his brand awareness on Manchester United shirts for a decade. Then its president, Eric Andersen, said the company needed a sponsorship opportunity that would describe what Aon was doing, not who it was.
As a global professional services company engaged in risk, retirement and healthcare solutions, it launched the Aon Risk Reward Challenge. Players who had the lowest average score for the season on a given par 5 each week – usually a risk-return hole – received a $ 1 million bonus.
That’s $ 1 million for the PGA Tour and $ 1 million for the LPGA Tour.
“There is no difference between PGA and LPGA,” said Andersen. “And we wanted to make a strong statement. There is a lot of dialogue about gender equality in professional sport. This has been a great opportunity to put our money where our mouth is.
“The outside reaction has been great,” he said. “And I can’t stress enough how great it was internally. It was a real battle cry for the team, one of those proud moments. “
It moved Carlota Ciganda to tears when the Spaniard became the first LPGA winner of the award in 2019 (Brooks Koepka won on the PGA Tour). The $ 1 million prize pool was almost what she made the previous season.
“Thank you for spending the same money on men and women,” said Ciganda that day. “I think I’m the winner, but womens golf is the winner today, the LPGA is the winner. I think we are all very happy, very proud. “
KPMG, a longtime sponsor of Phil Mickelson, signed former world number 1 Stacy Lewis and they were part of a commercial about breaking glass ceilings. That was right around the time KPMG became the title sponsor of the Women’s PGA Championship, upgraded the long-time major with higher prize money (now $ 4.5 million, double what it was before KPMG was involved), and brought it to courses, previously hosted gentlemen majors, such as Hazeltine and Aronimink.
In another big deal, Chevron announced Tuesday that it would become the new title sponsor of the first major LPGA championship of the year, increasing its wallet by 60% to $ 5 million.
Across the Atlantic, AIG’s sponsorship of the Women’s British Open resulted in $ 6.8 million in prize money next year. And the USGA is expected to announce a presenting sponsor by the end of the year to boost the US Women’s Open wallet, which already has the largest payout for the majors.
It’s not always about equal pay, which can be a tricky business when you consider the whole entertainment package like TV ratings, audience numbers and local sponsorship.
The gap is enormous, a product of interest and television.
The PGA Tour launches a nine-year media rights deal valued at an estimated $ 7 billion, bringing the total prize pool to nearly $ 400 million. The LPGA Tour has no such deal, often buys its television time, and has a total prize pool of about $ 70 million.
Equality can at least begin with opportunity, and that is exactly what Cognizant had in mind.
The company’s entry into golf began with the deal to become one of three global partners for the next three Presidents Cup games starting in 2022. It should never stop. Chand said Cognizant got into the golf business with men and women.
So it deliberately waited until something was in line with the LPGA before announcing the President’s Cup deal. The Founders Cup, which was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, was looking for a new sponsor and turned out to be perfect.
Along with relocating the tournament from Arizona, Cognizant immediately doubled the size of its purse. This week’s winner will receive $ 450,000.
“One of the things that we care about very much is making a fairly fair investment in both properties,” said Chand.
Similar to Aon, the decision was also well received internally.
“Feedback # 1 is: ‘I’m proud to work for a company that puts its money where its mouth is.’ We’re not talking about diversity and inclusion. We’re doing something, ”said Chand.
The Presidents Cup, scheduled for September 22-25 next year in Quail Hollow, North Carolina, has already exceeded expectations for hospitality sales. The number of visitors, not to mention the number of viewers on the network, is likely to dwarf the success of the Founders Cup this week.
For Chand, it was about more than that.
“We know some of the challenges,” he said. “But every little step will help make it a much fairer space.”