The European Tour could launch a takeover bid for its struggling ladies equivalent. The Ladies European Tour (LET), which has been badly hindered by the loss of tournaments, is also a potential business target for the US-based LPGA Tour. If that single, global brand would seem a natural alternative to the status quo, the plans of the European Tour’s chief executive, Keith Pelley, will be subject to deeper intrigue.
Since taking office, Pelley has displayed a willingness to completely alter what could be regarded as archaic arrangements within golf.
Sources have confirmed to the Guardian that no formal discussions have taken place between the European Tour and LET but that Pelley is giving the matter serious consideration. A spokesman for the European Tour said: “We are always looking at ways to grow and expand our business.” The European Tour, while facing its own economic challenges against the fiscal power of the US PGA Tour, may regard a professional women’s operation as key to entering untapped markets.
Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, one of the LET’s finest exports, this year admitted her fear that young professionals playing in Europe would need to take on a second job to make ends meet.
The LET confirmed this month, in a brief statement, that its chief executive, Ivan Khodabakhsh, was “stepping aside” after four years in the role. As tournaments fell off the LET schedule and poor financial figures were reported, Khodabakhsh, a former boxing executive, was subject to widespread criticism.
The LET refuses to explain the reasons for Khodabakhsh’s departure, with Mark Lichtenhein, its chairman, assuming day‑to‑day duties for now. Coincidentally Lichtenhein, formerly the head of television, digital media and technology at the European Tour, was an early victim of regime change as implemented by Pelley. Now the pair are almost certain to talk regarding what would be a significant business deal.
Mike Whan, the head of the LPGA, said this week that his firm is also taking a close interest in European affairs. He has also been in discussion with Pelley. “I don’t really have a timeline for this,” Whan said. “I do hope that before the end of the year we can sit down with them and say: ‘Here is the way we see it. Is this something you think we can do together?’
“We are working together, Keith and I, to provide a suggestion as to what we think we could do together. We are trying to create one vision.”
The LET has an existing connection to the LPGA via the Solheim Cup, which at least continues to grow in a commercial sense, plus co-sanctioned tournaments as recently extended from majors to the Scottish Open. The financial gap between the respective tours is vast. As things stand, 20th on the LPGA money list has collected $634,000. In Europe, the same position is worth just under €39,000.
Speaking to the Guardian as the Solheim Cup played out this week, Lichtenhein insisted the LET remains a viable business, if one operating as an outdated model. “I’ve been looking at our governance structure, which I think is in need of updating,” he said. “We have articles of association that haven’t been changed in the last 30 years. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that but with everything that is going on just now around governance in sport, and the UK government’s interest in that, we want to show ourselves as a modern company.”
The chief executive position will be discussed at a LET board meeting in a fortnight’s time, with Lichtenhein unwilling to be drawn on whether he would be willing to take on the role full-time. It rather serves as a metaphor for golf as a whole but this job is surely the domain of a young, dynamic individual who can breathe fresh life into a business beset by bad publicity.