Charley Hull got her 2019 season off to the best possible start when she won on her first outing at the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open in Abu Dhabi.
It was a superb performance which brought to an end a winless streak stretching back to November 2016 but also served as a stark reminder of the huge gulf that currently exists between the men’s and women’s tours.€38,115 when she beat Norway’s Marianne Skarpnord by a single shot, which in some quarters will be deemed as a decent return for four day’s work but which pales into insignificance alongside the €1,024,195 Ireland’s Shane Lowry collected when he lifted the trophy at the subsequent Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on the men’s tour.
That is a colossal difference and it has become the norm at a time when there is at least a dozen events offering prize purses of €7 million or more on the European Tour but just two providing in excess of €3 million for members of the Ladies European Tour. The minimum prize purse is €1 million on the men’s tour but that is more than all but those two events on the equivalent ladies’ circuit where the norm is much nearer to €300,000.
English LET professional Meghan MacLaren took to Twitter in the aftermath of the Abu Dhabi event to suggest women deserve a better deal.
two main tour events in the same country, one week after each other…
one prize fund $293,000
one prize fund $7,000,000 #spotthedifference ??♀️??♂️
— Meghan MacLaren (@meg_maclaren) January 15, 2019
It soon became apparent that her argument was not universally supported in all quarters. Far from it.
I should add the English former Curtis Cup player was not suggesting women should have parity with the men. She was merely calling for a more equitable share but even that seemed unacceptable to several of her (mainly male) respondents.
I am in complete agreement with MacLaren on this issue, but I am also aware of how difficult it will be to turn things round.
1/8 Going to try and leave this alone after today for a while because i am being continually reminded common sense is the least common trait of them all. There is a difference between having an opinion, and being ignorant. But:
— Meghan MacLaren (@meg_maclaren) January 18, 2019
It is easy to lay the blame at the door of beleaguered LET officials for not attracting more lucrative sponsorship, but it is not quite as straightforward as that as even their harshest critics would have to admit the current system mitigates against them.
The fact is that all but the most benevolent commercial sponsors will only hand over their cash if they see a potential return on their investment and that is far from certain at a time when women’s golf, and women’s sport in general, is frequently ignored in the mainstream media.
I was reminded of this while reading an article in the Neiman Report in which writer Shira Springer quoted a recent survey which found that in America women’s sport receives a mere four percent of the total sports media coverage. That is a frightening statistic and anyone who follows sport will know that it is much the same on this side of the Atlantic. The sparse coverage of Hull’s Abu Dhabi victory is a prime example of that.
“We had days when we were collecting data and there would be literally no coverage of women’s sports,” Cheryl Cooky, an associate professor at Purdue University and a co-author of the survey, told Springer. “But a local network would spend 55 seconds out of three minutes of sports content talking about a stray dog that had wandered into the Milwaukee Brewers stadium.”
Even when women’s sport does receive coverage, Cooky adds, much of it focuses on feminism and attractiveness, rather than performance. “To me, it’s like, if we (the media outlets) can’t sexualise them (the athletes), then we’re not going to really talk about them at all,” she adds. “Or, if we have to talk about them, then we’re just going to talk about them in really boring and bland ways.”
That, in a nutshell, is the problem facing the LET, and all other female sports organisations, as they seek potential sponsorship.
They can do their best to hone their products and to provide entertainment but, without the support of the male-dominated sports media, they will always be battling with one arm tied firmly behind their backs.