MEDIA WATCH: Press coverage alone makes star of PGA's female contender

Annika Sorenstam's acceptance of an invitation to play at the Bank of America Colonial tournament in Fort Worth, TX sparked an unprecedented flood of media buzz and hype for an LPGA player. When Sorenstam teed off at the tournament, she became the first female golfer to play in a men's tournament in 58 years. But while the 1945 episode was treated as an oddity, Sorenstam's decision has created an unstoppable wave of media coverage.

Annika Sorenstam's acceptance of an invitation to play at the Bank of America Colonial tournament in Fort Worth, TX sparked an unprecedented flood of media buzz and hype for an LPGA player. When Sorenstam teed off at the tournament, she became the first female golfer to play in a men's tournament in 58 years. But while the 1945 episode was treated as an oddity, Sorenstam's decision has created an unstoppable wave of media coverage.

A review of some of the reporting reveals that the media was well aware of the circus atmosphere surrounding Sorenstam as the coverage of her quest became a story in itself. Sorenstam has appeared on The Tonight Show, 60 Minutes, NBC's Today show, and in Parade magazine, as well as in newspapers across the country. The Chicago Tribune (May 21) labeled the coverage "the brightest spotlight ever focused on a golfer, male or female," implying that she had outdone the mighty Tiger Woods. The widespread coverage brought great exposure to Sorenstam - and her skills - to the American public. People, Time, The New York Times, and a host of others referred to her as the best female golfer either in the LPGA or in the world. Although Sorenstam has won 43 LPGA titles in the last decade, including four majors, a pundit on NBC's Today show (May 20) argued, "This has advanced her own name brand more than anything she's ever done in her life." Reports indicated that more than 600 reporters would be covering the tournament, which The Orlando Sentinel (May 19) suggested "should easily quadruple" the usual coverage of the annual event. CBS, USA, and the Golf Channel all expanded their coverage of the tournament to show more of Sorenstam. Although Sorenstam repeatedly stated that she was only participating in the tournament as the ultimate test of her own abilities, the media often played up Sorenstam's appearance as a "battle of the sexes," a la the legendary tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Some wrote that PGA golfers Vijay Singh and Nick Price were uncomfortable with her participation; Singh was cited for his statements that he hoped she played poorly, and Price for saying her appearance was a cheap publicity stunt. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (May 18) opined that the criticism, which Sorenstam classily deflected, "only adds to the buzz," and further generates a groundswell of support for her as the underdog. The Los Angeles Times (May 21) pointed out that although there were 114 golfers in the tournament, "as far as the media are concerned, about 113 of them are irrelevant." Others appeared to agree, as they expressed concerns that the overwhelming scrutiny could prove to be a distraction for Sorenstam. Finally, a number of reports addressed what a marketing bonanza all this publicity is for anyone and everyone involved - the prospect of lucrative endorsement contracts for Sorenstam, the companies that already sponsor her, increased support for the LPGA and the PGA, women's sports in general, the city of Fort Worth, the Colonial tournament itself and Bank of America, the first-time sponsor of the tournament. Unfortunately, Sorenstam fell short of her goal of making the cut at Colonial. The media, however, made her a star for at least having the courage to try.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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