'Cultivate attention because attention is currency.' --Chris Brogan
The Ladies European Tour drew a good bit of attention this week with the debut of Paige Spiranac. The Instagram and internet sensation was playing in her first professional tournament at the Ladies Dubai Masters. Having played golf at San Diego State, Paige turned professional in August and was invited as a sponsor's exemption to the tournament field. She was a decent player at SDSU, but not a national champion or All-American. Instead, she has been branded as the 'Hottest Athlete in the World' (unofficial, of course) because of her presence on Instagram and Twitter. She has 547,000 followers on Instagram and probably has the largest presence on social media of any female golfer. She had not played an event on the LPGA or Futures Tour prior to the debut in Dubai this week.
Of course, her lack of tournament results and credentials drew the ire of many in the field and in the golf world. European Tour professional Henriaetta Zuel said, 'It’s really embarrassing for women’s golf. Social media narcissism is not a criteria [for entry into the tournament].' Golf writers and international media criticized her for unfairly profiting from her social media presence. It even produced this editorial cartoon in the Irish Examiner
What these critics do not understand is that as a sponsor (in this case Omega and Dubai Tourism) can invite anyone of their choosing because they are putting up the money for the event! It's not like Omega invited my dog to play in the tournament (despite not having an Instagram account, she is the prettiest dog on the internet). Paige shot 77-79 to miss the cut...not bad in her first professional event against some of the best players in the world. No matter what her result was for the week, inviting Spiranac was a stroke of genius for the sponsors of the tournament.
What was the largest benefit of her playing in this event? ATTENTION. Outside of major championships, when was the last time a Ladies European Tour (heck maybe even LPGA) event has this much spotlight? She brought more attention to this tournament than it would have received had she not played. This is what sponsors pay for! It is well within their right to have someone play in their event which they feel can bring a return on their investment in the tournament.
But people like Paige are going to help draw more people to golf, especially among millennials. The golf population is getting old and it needs an infusion of youth. People that millennials can identify with through the internet draw them into the game. Despite not having won a tournament yet, Spiranac is good for the game. Until Rickie Fowler started winning events, he was the cool kid, wearing the flat bill caps and loud colors. But the kids loved him...and still do no matter how many events he wins! Spiranac with continued practice and competition could develop into the LPGA's Fowler... and that would be a great thing for their tour! More attention for that tour will help them develop more sponsors and more money. That's Marketing 101. When the players are competing for more prize money, I don't think they will be criticizing players like Spiranac...because players like her can help elevate the visibility of that tour.