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When South Korean golfer Amy Yang won the CME Group Tour Championship on Nov. 19, she took home a $2 million prize, the highest first-place prize on the LPGA tour.

Alison Lee and Nasa Hataoka, who tied for second, each won $445,000. The big payday follows the rising popularity of women’s golf, and it’s a sign of the larger sponsor commitments supporting the earnings opportunities for professional women golfers. In 2024, the CME Group Tour Championship total purse will grow to $11 million, up from this year’s total purse of $7 million. The winner’s share will be $4 million, the biggest payout for any women’s sport.

“This is game-changing; this is groundbreaking. And we could not be more grateful and more proud of what CME has done to elevate the LPGA,” says Mollie Marcoux Samaan, LPGA Commissioner.

Terry Duffy, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CME Group, says the higher payout follows how the LPGA advances the game. “When you start to see progress, you want to continue to add to it. I'm seeing progress in the brand value of CME Group. We're a global company. We're in over 200 countries around the world. And I like the globalness of the LPGA Tour,” Duffy says.

Player Support Grows

The support from CME Group reflects a broader movement to both increase tournament sponsors and uplift individual golfers. That support means even lower-ranked athletes have found financial backing. According to the LPGA, 99 LPGA Tour athletes earned more than $200,000 in prize money in 2023, 22% more than in 2021, with a historic high of three players breaking the $3 million threshold. From 2021 to 2023, average income for the top 100 LPGA athletes grew 46%.

28 athletes earned more than $1 million in prize money, the most in LPGA Tour history, during the 2023 season.  On an individual level, the 50th ranked player in the world earned 38% more ($425K to $588K), and the 100th ranked player earned 47% more ($128K to $189K) from 2021 to 2023.

 

The increased player earnings are supported by much larger tournament purses. The LPGA full season purse grew to $108 million in 2023, up 54% from just two years earlier. Major championship purse sizes were up 80% from 2021.

“There are now many companies who realize the tremendous return on investment from being a part of the best women’s sports organization in the world,” Marcoux Samaan says.

Beyond CME Group, companies such as KPMG and Aon have also become large sponsors. Smaller companies such as Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O’Connor now are supporting LPGA Tour athletes after having financially backed players on the PGA Tour for several years, according to the New York Times. Supporting both men and women golfers is a recent change among firms, as for years women golfers struggled for sponsors.

From Hospitality Events to Major Sponsor

CME Group has been the title sponsor of the CME Group Tour Championship and season-long Race to CME Globe, a points race, for more than a decade. The Chicago-based marketplace started its relationship with the Tour by hosting client hospitality events with LPGA Tour athletes . At the time there were only a handful of tournaments for the LPGA. “We wanted to get in on the ground floor and we thought it was really dynamic,” Duffy says.

"CME has been investing in us for over a decade. They’ve been leading the charge, they’ve been innovative. They realize how valuable this investment can be,” says Marcoux Samaan.

Duffy adds that next year’s record purse and top prize for the Tour Championship benefit more than just player compensation. “Both of these developments will make our event even more exciting for the players and spectators, while bringing more parity to the game," he says.

Sarah Kemp, an LPGA Tour athlete sponsored by CME,  says the sponsorship commitment from CME makes a difference. “CME has done so much for women’s golf. More investment from sponsors helps level the playing field for women’s golf and brings more visibility to our game. We’re playing for more money than we ever have and it is continuing to grow thanks to CME,” she says.

"We’re playing for more money than we ever have."

— Sarah Kemp, LPGA Tour pro

Sponsorship Impact

A report from SponsorUnited says brands that sponsor the LPGA received up to a 400% return on their investment. In its LPGA Marketing Partnerships Report for 2022/23, the sponsorship data and advertising services firm found there are now over 1,200 active brands involved across LPGA tournaments, double from 2019.

LPGA Tour athletes also saw an average engagement rate of 4.6% on their social media posts, double the average of athletes in the five major North American sports leagues, the report adds. Between 2022 and 2023, female golfers competing on the circuit averaged a follower growth of 15%.

Keith Karem, senior vice president of marketing at KemperSports, a golf course and hospitality management company, says the growth of women playing the game and increasing sponsorships are intertwined.

“Sponsorship brands realize women are playing golf, they're watching golf as a result and they want to learn how to play,” Karem says. “You are also getting a very targeted audience when you sponsor the LPGA, which allows brands to spend their sponsor dollars most efficiently.”

Karem also applauds how the LPGA has made women's golf enticing to both viewers and brand sponsors.

“The LPGA has done a better job of growing the visibility of the Tour. It's easier to find women's golf on television; it is an incredibly compelling game.”

The CME Group Tour Championship expanded media coverage from recent years as well, with the first three rounds televised on Golf Channel and the final round on NBC. The tournament could also be streamed on various platforms. Altogether it reached 8.9 million viewers across linear television, streaming, social and web platforms, up from 4.7 million in 2022.

It follows a string of media success for the LPGA, which routinely set records for TV viewership in 2023. At least 11 tournaments aired on major broadcast networks during the year, and those reached 4-5 times the viewership of tournaments that aired on cable.

Interest in golf is likely to only grow. The National Golf Foundation says the most notable U.S. participation gains are with women and people of color, and more young people are picking up clubs. The foundation showed in the past three years 36% of participants are under age 18.

As the popularity of women’s golf grows, Marcoux Samaan hopes it leads to greater visibility for the athletes.

“I’d like to see over the next five to 10 years that our athletes are household names. These are the best in the world and people should know about their great talents and the work they do off the golf course.”


 

 

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