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The Interview - Fiona Harold, Commercial Director at Ladies European Tour

It has been a great and enriching opportunity to interview Fiona Harold, Commercial Director at Ladies European Tour. The sports industry has experienced great changes in the past decade; digitalization, globalization, the entrance of new players such as investors, etc. However, there is one that has gained particular traction: women's sports. Thank you Fiona for sharing your interesting view and knowledge on the topic, with a special focus on an also evolving sport: golf.

You have been exposed to and actively involved in the sports industry from many different angles and now, you are the Commercial Director at Ladies European Tour, one of top 2 golf tours for female golfers with tournaments in different countries and continents. According to your experience, what have been the most significant changes over the last 10 years in the sport industry and, more concisely, in the golf sector?

The most significant change is without doubt the growth and interest surrounding Women’s sports globally. Investment, visibility, content, performance insights, grassroots opportunities, the drive for equality with their male counterparts – there is so much change happening. It’s taken a long time and there is still a long way to go but witnessing and being a part of the incredible efforts behind the scenes at the Football Association to drive positive change across the Women’s game was very special. More specifically in golf, I think the significant change in the landscape around the Men’s professional game is obvious for all to see through the impact of the breakaway LIV tour. It’s been more gradual growth in the Women’s tours from a membership and prize fund point of view, which is key to the continued success of the golfing ecosystem, but we need to see more investment from brands to continue to drive growth and equality. At a grassroots level, the Covid pandemic certainly helped drive participation levels up in the UK. More work needs to be done to continue to make golf as accessible as possible for everyone.

Other significant changes across the industry as a whole I’d say would be the way professional athletes are taking on responsibility for addressing important societal issues and influencing change. Sport has always been seen as a force for good but the level at which athletes are now engaging themselves has taken that into a new league. This is also reflected in the sponsorship space where you see a lot of brands and rights holders working better than ever together on a purpose-led basis to highlight and tackle issues and bring about change.

The other area I’d highlight would be the explosion of digital content platforms and the impact that has had on the way media rights deals are structured.

Golf is evolving in a positive way and is trying at the same time to rejuvenate its practitioners and audience, also among the female population. What are the main challenges that golf, and more specifically, female golf is facing nowadays? And how can female golf compete against other sports and entertainment options?

Golf is challenging in many ways! From an elite point of view, scheduling clashes, TV production costs, members funding their participation in tournaments, sustainability and the challenges that come with being a woman such as family planning and hormone health, all play their part. It’s an intense circuit that involves so much travel, training and focus. Our two core objectives are to strive for increased purses year on year so that professional golf is a viable career option for those that choose to pursue it, and secondly to improve member services so that we can support the players as much as possible, enabling them to focus solely on their game and be the best they can be. At a participation level, I just don’t think golf is top of mind or as accessible from a location/time point of view for most women. Finding shorter formats and communicating the offer in the right way is key. From an entertainment point of view, golf is up there in terms of the talent on display but I think it’s harder to engage an audience when you’re not playing a 90minute match, or you’re following an individual as opposed to a team. That is just the nature of golf. We can do more to bring out player’s personalities and we have The Solheim Cup which is an incredible team event on the world stage but we need to look at where we can improve across the board. The LET is in the final stages of reviewing its current production offering and broadcast relationships so that we can better set ourselves up for the longer term. Female golfers are incredibly talented and are great role models. They deserve to be seen more but we all know there is more female sport’s content available now than ever before so it’s a busy landscape.

LET is working hard in aligning the organization with the Environmental - Social - Governance pillars. Why is it so important for LET to be aligned with the sustainable framework and what specific activities are you, as a Competition / Tour, putting in place or in process to be implemented?

We recognise that action is required to protect the environment, encourage community engagement and promote diversity. It is all fundamental to our health, quality of life and prosperity. As a professional global sports organisation, we see it as our responsibility to play a part in this space.

In 2020 we developed a program with our partner Dow - LET Celebrating the Green, presented by Dow, which we promote and celebrate through both of our channels. The initiative aims to recognise and promote the great sustainability work being done by the Ladies European Tour community such as our players, partners, venues and promoters. It can be any activities related to environmental, human or social economic issues with the objective of inspiring and encouraging others to become involved, engage in sustainability and for stakeholders across the game to collaborate and learn from each other. We also participate in meetings with other golf tours and organisations within the industry to be updated on the latest best practises and to ensure we’re all aligned on initiatives. For example, we work with GEO Foundation who can help provide our venues with tools to help them make informed decisions to become more environmental friendly.

Many of our tournament venues are challenged and committed to reduce water usage and limit use of chemicals. If any of our tour or tournament sponsors has got an initiative and objective within the sustainable framework we encourage our players to participate. We have participated in beach cleans where our players are involved with school classes in the region with inspirational educational sessions and interviews to learn more and make good decisions for the future.

In September 2023, Andalucía will host the Solheim Cup, generating a significant economic, tourism, and image impact for Spain. What are the main characteristics of the Solheim 2023? And what are the main opportunities for sponsors?

The Solheim Cup is a unique event that combines the tradition and prestige of the game of golf with passion for one’s country and continent, giving women’s golf a truly global platform. This years’ event will be held at Finca Cortesin, Andalucia, Spain. It has been declared an event of Exceptional Public Interest by the Government of Spain. This is the first women’s golf event considered an event of Exceptional Public Interest in Spain, a distinction that highlights the importance of this competition on the international scene. Andalucia, and more specifically the Costa del Sol, are not only keen to promote themselves as a European golfing haven but intend to use this event to showcase other elements of economic impact such as gastronomy, quality accommodation, health and wellness, and an incredible range of leisure activities.

Partners and sponsors of the event have access to the largest household reach in women’s European golf. They have an opportunity to align key messaging with that of equality and women empowerment. They can promote an association with and event and a Tour that is continually growing and excelling. On the ground they will be hosted in 5* surroundings and have a front row seat to one of the most exciting events of the year.

Sustainability is one of the biggest characteristics of the event. The 2023 Solheim Cup organisers are making a remarkable effort to implement measures that will reduce the carbon footprint, promote recycling in all areas of the tournament, rationalize water consumption, and help conserve the natural habitat. The designation of Sustainability Partner is available for sponsors to make a similar pledge and promote both the events and their own commitment to the planet.

According to your knowledge and understanding of the sports industry, which accounts, in a global basis, for 1.5%-2% of the world GDP, what are the main trends of the sports industry moving forward? What will the sport industry look like by 2030?

The women’s sport trend is here to stay for a while. By 2030 we’ll hopefully be reflecting on a decade of successes for female sport across the board, from improved performance and investment levels to more advanced medical insights and greater competition in the marketplace for media rights and sponsorship. All of this will hopefully impact participation levels and create a more active global population where sport really is fully inclusive and becomes the norm for everyone. There is definitely continued focus on accessibility and inclusivity to ensure sport is inspiring and available to everyone in a positive environment. There are some great examples of how sponsors are helping drive that.

The ongoing emergence of new platforms and tech developments we’re seeing to diversify how we consume sports content will continue to reach new levels. I am also convinced there will be more disruption across sport, as we’ve seen in Men’s golf and with the European Super League attempt, but it will hopefully be in a positive way. I do think it’s important for sports properties to innovate and be growth minded. Change is a good thing, as long as it’s collaborative. It creates new opportunities for athletes and consumers and drives competitive tension in the marketplace.

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