The Impact of Ethnic Diversity on the Ladies Professional Golf Association: A Case Study of Anheuser-Busch and Its Sponsorship Objectives and Strategies

By Choi, J. Andrew | Sport Marketing Quarterly, March 2010 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Ethnic Diversity on the Ladies Professional Golf Association: A Case Study of Anheuser-Busch and Its Sponsorship Objectives and Strategies


Choi, J. Andrew, Sport Marketing Quarterly


Abstract

Between January 2001 and November 2009, players of Asian descent won nearly 30% of the 287 LPGA-sanctioned tournaments held during the period. By contrast, only 15 years ago (in 1995), an Asian player won only one of the 37 LPGA tournaments held that year (Ladies Professional Golf Association [LPGA], 2009). Clearly, a new generation of golfers has significantly increased the ethnic diversity of the LPGA and its tournament winners. This study investigated whether and how ethnic diversity in the LPGA has influenced the objectives and strategies of LPGA sponsorship decisions for the Anheuser-Busch Company (A-B). This research included 11 semi-structured interviews and two observations at A-B events as a participant. Multiple sources of evidence were collected and analyzed through categorical or "thematic" analysis: interview transcripts, field notes, A-B business documents, and physical artifacts. "Selling more beer," "opportunity," and "the best competition available" emerged as key themes in my findings. The increasing ethnic diversity of the LPGA through the ascendance of Asian players clearly impacted A-B and its sponsorship objectives and strategies. Contrary to what some have feared about language or cultural barriers as detriments to LPGA sponsorship, A-B expertly utilized the LPGA's growing diversity for its own competitive advantage through market-driven and awareness-driven goals in its sponsorship decisions.

Background

This is probably going to get me in trouble, but the Asians are killing our tour. Absolutely killing it. Their lack of emotion, their refusal to speak English when they can speak English. They rarely speak. We have two-day Pro-Ams where people are paying a lot of money to play with us, and they say hello and goodbye. Our tour is predominantly international and the majority of them are Asian. They've taken it over. (Jan Stephenson, LPGA Tour winner, as cited in Kessler, 2003, p. 72)

Hall-of-Fame LPGA pro Jan Stephenson made the above statement almost six years ago. At the time, Stephenson's comments made headlines in the golfing world for what was then viewed as racially insensitive remarks, and she was criticized by then-LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw. She was immediately ostracized in the ladies' golf scene (Van Sickle, 2008). Then, in fall 2008, the LPGA sent shock waves through the golfing industry by announcing an "English-only" policy-a widely criticized and extremely short-lived rule that mandated that foreign players learn functional English within two years or their Tour Card would be suspended. The rationale for such a dramatic measure was that LPGA sponsors were growing unhappy with the lack of interaction and dialogue with some international players during Pro-Am tournaments and that both the LPGA and its sponsors were threatened by a corresponding decreased value of sponsorship. Are the explosion of Asian winners of LPGA tournaments and their lack of English skills, combined with cultural barriers, finally testing the patience of key sponsors? Did the LPGA's new language policy validate Ms. Stephenson's controversial comments from six years ago?

Thoroughly answering these questions might seem to require visiting and studying all past and present LPGA sponsors, but directly querying sponsors would likely prove ineffective. The sensitive and controversy-prone act of commenting on players' linguistic and cultural aptitudes, as opposed to their playing skills, would likely preclude getting genuine answers. Instead, this study opted to more deeply probe LPGA sponsor A-B as an exemplar to examine how the company views and copes with what may seem like a detrimental by-product of the globalization of women's professional golf.

Literature Review

The Growth and Potential of Ethnic Consumers in the United States

The importance of ethnicity in today's marketing practices is amplified by the speed with which ethnic minority communities and markets have been expanding. …

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