Second to None: Growth and Innovation on the Korn Ferry Tour
Alex was named president of the Web.com Tour—now the Korn Ferry Tour—in January 2019, becoming the first woman to lead one of the PGA Tour’s six global Tours. She joined the PGA Tour in 2017 as Vice President of Corporate Partnerships, where she was responsible for co-leading the Marketing Partnership team and overseeing key partner account teams including Morgan Stanley, Dell, Omni Hotel and Resorts and United Airlines, among others. In addition to spearheading partner oversight, she negotiated extensions and new programs with partners including Avis, MD Anderson, Rolex and Citi.
Prior to joining the PGA Tour, Alex was a Corporate Consulting Executive at CAA Sports, working with major brands on their strategy and activation plans in sports and entertainment. During that time, she worked strategically with Waste Management and the Waste Management Phoenix Open as well as Synchrony Financial, CVS Health and Concur, among others.
For 10 years prior to joining CAA, Alex was with Fenway Sports Management, consulting clients and driving sales efforts around premier golf properties, including the Deutsche Bank Championship. She began her career in 1992 as an intern with IMG, where she eventually rose to agent, representing the likes of LPGA stars Karrie Webb and Suzann Pettersen, as well as PGA Tour winners Brad Faxon and Carlos Franco.
In her interview with podcast host Jim Andrews, Alex shared an inside look at how the “pathway to the PGA Tour” differentiates itself when working with corporate partners, as well as plans to grow the circuit and tell the stories of its players. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim: Given your prior role as vice president of corporate partnerships for the PGA Tour, and now leading the Korn Ferry Tour, I’m curious as to how the relationship development process with brands may differ. Can you tell us about how the Korn Ferry Tour and its events are marketed to sponsors?
Alex: I’ve had the opportunity to work within many of the different sectors of the sports marketing business. Most recently, and the lion’s share of my time has been on the corporate partner side, whether from a business development perspective selling sponsorships or consulting with sponsors to help them identify the amplification points and the alignment points with the investments they have made in sponsorships and ultimately the activations that realize the critical ROI they are looking for.
That has given me a tremendous opportunity to understand the business and that these investments are very much defined by the return. On the Korn Ferry Tour, we have a really interesting value proposition. We are where the PGA Tour’s future stars find their origin story. We are the initial platform for telling these stories and bringing people into the journey.
So for us, we have a microcosm that allows us—both on the umbrella sponsorship with Korn Ferry and with our event title sponsors and official marketing partners—to bring these brands and their core customer experiences, their brand activations, their media spends, their investments in players to life in the earlier stage of the process.
A relevant example right now: Scottie Scheffler was the Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year in 2019. He has been a golf ambassador for Veritex Community Bank since 2019, which led them to become a title sponsor with us. They have been on the ride and part of his journey ascending to number one in the world, winning the Dell Match Play and then The Masters.
Jim: A fitting example of what we always say to sponsors about getting in on the ground floor of an opportunity.
Alex: Simmons Bank is another regional bank that is a title sponsor for us in Nashville and they have a similar story. They invested in Will Zalatoris before he was Will Zalatoris. Their brand being part of the ride in 2020 and 2021 and seeing him become PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and the content, the storytelling, the brand association and the visibility they were able to generate are powerful things.
Jim: Beyond sponsorship, I’d love to learn more about how you are marketing the Korn Ferry tour in general, whether that’s brand building, attracting bigger or different audiences. What does growth look like for the tour?
Alex: There are a lot of different indicators we are looking for as far as growth. You mentioned title sponsors. I’m pleased to say that when I started in 2019, we were at 11 and we got to 15 that year. We now have 21 title sponsors.
We’ve seen that growth during a pretty volatile period of time. We see these brands really wanting to be a part of this tour that provides a point of access at a lower cost and gives them an incredible property to be able to host clients, create community engagement and offer employee appreciation opportunities.
So one of our goals is to continue to see our corporate community and that sponsorship investment grow. I feel very good about the results we have shown many of those title sponsors.
Another point of measurement for us is our players and their success. Eighty-two percent of PGA Tour membership has played on our tour. We look at our players’ performance at major championships. At this year’s Masters, we had 44 former Korn Ferry Tour players qualify to play at Augusta. Once the cut was made, we had 32 representing the Korn Ferry Tour and by the time the last putt dropped on Sunday, seven out of the top 10 were Korn Ferry Tour alumni. That demonstrates that our responsibility to identify, prepare and transition the next generation of PGA Tour stars is coming to life.
For the future, one of the areas we are focusing on from a marketing and media perspective is really building the players’ brands with our fans earlier. We want them to know who Scottie Scheffler is before he’s Scottie Scheffler. This is where you really get into the great stories and have the opportunity to get to know these players.
With Korn Ferry, we have a six-part docuseries called One Shot Away, which aired on CBS and can also be found on our YouTube channel. It’s a great opportunity for us to bolster our library of content so that when Scottie wins the Masters we have all of this footage archived and can continue to have that touchpoint with fans.
So for me, the future is about more content and more coverage, and elevating the overall profile of the tour and gaining a real understanding of what our role is. There is a razor-thin line that separates the competitors on the Korn Ferry Tour from the PGA Tour, so we want to elevate our events to a standard that when guys are playing in between the tours you can hardly tell the difference.
Jim: Often in the sports world, the “minor leagues” have much different and very compelling stories to tell and are often a place for experimentation and innovation. Is that the case with the Korn Ferry Tour?
Alex: One hundred percent and I’ve got a great example. In January of 2020, we were hosting events in the Bahamas where there had previously been Golf Channel broadcasts, but we decided to test live streaming. We decided to do it with a new technology called bonded cell cameras, which enabled us to capture footage of the competition and transmit it back to our production facilities in St. Augustine, Fla. So we were able to produce the show remotely. It meant we didn’t have to have the large production trucks and incur the expenses of an entire on-site production. And it was very successful.
Fast forward to when Covid hit and we needed a solution to be able to broadcast our events without having to send people out to the tournaments. The technology had already proved itself with the Bahamas tournaments, so we were able to put it in play and have now transferred our entire production model to using bonded cell technology.
Jim: In terms of branding, your brand is also your title sponsor’s brand, and Korn Ferry is a fascinating partner—a large, international company in a sector that isn’t as active in sports marketing as others—so can you tell us about the role it plays and what it is looking to achieve through its sponsorship?
Alex: We are really grateful that we found a sponsor and a partner at a time when they could align with the trajectory we were on. They are a global organizational consulting firm that has been in business for over 50 years and their focus is helping people exceed their potential. It’s about advancing and about the journey of business professionals and leaders.
Their brand and what they stand for truly aligns so organically with who we are and what we do. It is a very natural fit.
They are playing a role in helping our players build their brands, providing counsel and coaching. It’s not just about the inside-the-ropes development, but also how the players can manage their brand and their business at the different stages of their careers. That’s a really relevant analogy that they are not just about the C-suite and executive leaders, but they are very much engaged with people at all the stages of development in their careers.
Jim: Did the conversation with Korn Ferry begin with a sponsorship of what is now the Korn Ferry Tour as opposed to the PGA Tour because the developmental aspects of your tour align with what they do?
Alex: It did. From the onset as they began their search in sponsorship, they knew they wanted something that played a role in the development stage. They liked golf; it resonates with the C-suite, from a B2B perspective it is very strong for them with their audience.
Jim: There have been some recent discussions in other sports about how best to coordinate partnership sales between leagues or sanctioning bodies and individual teams or events. Can you tell us how the tour works with your local tournament organizers in recruiting sponsors?
Alex: The Korn Ferry Tour is very much a family. In addition to all the resources we have to support our tournaments—from agronomy resources, our tournament competitions and rules team, our operations staff that travels week in and week out to support our tournaments logistically and with their volunteers—we have a tournament business affairs team that also supports our title sponsors. The tournament businesses are 501(c)3 community organizations for the most part, and our goal is to drive those charitable dollars and those net proceeds back into the community.
We have a very similar structure and use the best practices of the PGA Tour, down to Korn Ferry providing its Korn Ferry advanced coaching services for our tournament directors and members of our tournament staff to help them grow professionally.
In terms of sales resources, we have an entire sales management team that provides support on basic strategy points to CRM to product management, product ladders, ticket prices, etc.
These events have grown and become much more sophisticated. They are in markets that are just right for our product. We don’t want to go too big or too small. We want to make sure we don’t have too many competitive forces from other teams, sports and golf tournaments, so market selection is very important.
Jim: In terms of the types of sponsors you are attracting as title partners, is there a certain profile they fit into? More B2B sponsors or is it a wide range?
Alex: Most recently regional banks have been very strong. Hospitals also, including Memorial Health in Springfield, Ill.; AdventHealth, who has joined us as a title sponsor in Kansas City; Rex Hospital in Raleigh, N.C. has been a longstanding partner.
Vendor programs have also been interesting. We have a number of grocery store chains, including Albertson’s and Price Cutter who have vendor programs that help to maximize charitable proceeds. Some hospitals and banks are also using vendor programs