Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bivens vs. critics

You can never get too many stories on the reign of LPGA Commish Carolyn Bivens. Here's one from the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

Bivens shakes up LPGA
New commissioner has had stormy first year.
November 15, 2006

By Randall Mell

WEST PALM BEACH · Carolyn Bivens isn't even a tour pro, but her bold play this year appears destined to be remembered as one of the classic risk-reward shots in golf. Except there's more than a tournament hanging in the balance.

As the LPGA Tour's first female commissioner, Bivens is risking her reputation and her tour's future on her attempt to transform a ``mom-and-pop'' kind of women's sports organization into a corporate titan that more closely resembles the most successful entities in men's sports.

Her ambition remains airborne as her tumultuous first full season as commissioner nears an end at this week's ADT Championship at Trump International. It's a work in progress. Players, sponsors and devoted fans are watching to see if she can navigate all the hazards springing up around her or if her grand plan lands out of bounds.

While certain alienated tournament owners clamored for her ouster earlier this year, Bivens has the support of the LPGA Board of Directors and a player-base mixed between strong supporters, skeptics and those at least willing to wait and see if her aggressive style works.``I call Carolyn our bulldog,'' says four-time LPGA Tour winner Wendy Ward, a member of the player executive committee when Bivens was hired. ``She's an incredibly driven woman willing to take risks on our behalf. I think some tournament owners were offended by her style. The tour had lost control of some things over the years, and she wanted to take back the reins.''

Bivens has been at the center of a debate since the season started over whether her hard-nosed leadership fits an organization that for 56 years has operated more like a family business than a Fortune 500 Company.Bivens wasn't just the first woman named to run the tour, she was an outsider, recruited from the executive ranks of the media world to harness the potential of the tour's growing popularity. Trained as a boardroom warrior, she's shaking the foundation of a tour that still works on handshake agreements with certain tournament owners.

``This year's story is all about change,'' says Bivens, the former chief operating officer of Initiative Media North America. ``This organization has the opportunity to move forward, and we are going to take advantage of that opportunity.''

Bivens' goals aren't on their face objectionable.The new policies she's putting into place are aimed at establishing a health care plan for players for the first time, improving a weak retirement plan, improving licensing agreements and other revenue streams and increasing purses.

``To be successful, you have to figure out how to maximize the product when it is at its strongest and most competitive,'' Bivens said. The ``how'' became a heated issue in the first two tournaments of the year.Without advance warning to media traveling to the season-opening events in Hawaii, Bivens changed the language in the LPGA's media credentials agreement. It gave the tour control over media photographs that caused The Associated Press, Golf World, Sports Illustrated and two Honolulu newspapers to skip the start of the year's second event, the Fields Open.

Other tournaments were angered when Bivens directed the increase of sanctioning fees from $15,000 to $100,000 to help the tour offset its operating costs, a fee that tour officials say hadn't been increased in nearly 10 years. Another compromise is now in the works to spread out the increase over two or three years.The tension between the LPGA Tour and the Tournament Owners Association intensified when the ShopRite Classic outside Atlantic City, a 21year-old event, saw its dates given away to the new Ginn Tribute in South Carolina.

ShopRite folded with its ownership insisting its future dates were promised by the tour in writing. There's a dispute over that and over who failed to negotiate in good faith.The Wendy's Championship, the old Chick-Fil-A Charity and the Takefuji Classic all dropped their sponsorships this year. The tour has announced agreements with three new lucrative events, which will be part of the 2007 schedule Bivens releases to the media today.

``Changes are usually for the good, but they should be explained and communicated with long-time loyal partners,'' said Ruth Harrison, ShopRite's executive director. ``Everything's mandated now. The tour's definitely become autocratic in its dealings. There's no loyalty.''

Heather Daly-Donofrio, the LPGA Tour president for most of Bivens' tenure, says the lack of communication is a two-way street.``Carolyn did get off to a rough start this year in the minds of some people, but not in the minds of the LPGA's Board of Directors,'' Daly-Donofrio said. ``The board wanted to bring in an agent of change. Anytime you do that, you're going to upset some people. I think Carolyn's done a great job getting the tour's bottom line under control.''Bivens acknowledges she could have handled some policy changes better, but she defends her ultimate aims as worthy.``The real proof will be in delivering performance,'' Bivens said.


Anonymous said...

It looks like the Shoprite people are seeking a Champions/Senior Tour event for 2008 after being dumped by Bivens.


Anonymous said...

I know the Harrison's and they are snakes...
Beer distributors who claim to be big charity donors, but look at how the money gets spreadout...
A couple thousand per charity.
We live and work here.. it's no secret..
Too bad.

Anonymous said...

Look how the money gets spread out??? They gave almost $2 million last year alone (over $12 Million since 1986) to local charities, they ARE big charity donors. How much did you give to charity last year? I know them as well, and the last word I would ever use to describe them as, is "snakes". Although people who are posting comments at 1:35 in the morning, bad mouthing people who work hard to put on an event so that they CAN donate money to local charities, when by the way they don't need to....the word snake definitely comes to mind.