Ranking The Disruptive Forces
Fifteen factors that have put the PGA Tour on notice and opened the door for potential pro golf anarchy.
The PGA Tour issued a press release Monday to announce their return to Mexico next April 25-May 1, 2022. Curiously left out of the bulletin: specifics about the Puerto Vallarta venue, Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta.
Architects aren’t usually a sensitive topic when you’re upgrading the Mexico Open to a $7.3 million purse and going to seaside resort in a swell resort town. That’s because the 7,287 yard Norman Signature Course is designed by Greg Norman, a.k.a. Commish of the Saudi’s direct foray into PGA Tour business.
Welcome to Defcon 2.
Pretty amazing, really. Particularly since the notion of a “league” approach to professional golf was repeatedly declared dead sixteen months ago. Then the pandemic shut things down and the PGA Tour miraculously pulled off a return before most major sports. Commissioner Jay Monahan’s team orchestrated a robust schedule and testing program to keep things going. Fans got seven majors in 346 days. Oh and Olympic golf along with two FedExCups.
But instead of strengthening the PGA Tour’s dominance, a strange confluence of events has made the men’s professional game vulnerable to full-fledged anarchy. While the Tour’s executives may wish to ignore what got us here by blaming the unlimited coffers of the lead disruptors in the clubhouse, there is more to this state of affairs than just sportwashing away shady reputations (Saudi Golf League), or hoping to salvage several years of work by joining forces with the Tour (Premier Golf League).
Everything from Phil Mickelson’s hostility, to the Saudis hiring reputable executives suggests the disruptors are not going away. The gravity of it all has been validated by the PGA Tour pumping seemingly endless reserves back to players in weird ways. So in descending order, the main factors that have led us to a critical juncture for the men’s professional game.
Potential New Media Bidders. When the PGA Tour announced its latest TV deal for $700 million-or-so over nine years, it was seen as a sound deal despite missing out on the rights overspending from just a few years prior. But with the contract signed through 2030, the Tour may miss the next infusion of silly money. The NFL is believed to favor Apple taking over the NFL Sunday Ticket package when DirecTV’s deal expires. Amazon’s got an NFL deal already. Those two account for $4.23 trillion in market cap as of Monday’s market closing. ESPN’s head recently said tech and betting companies will be his biggest bidding competition for upcoming rights. In a “content is king” world, the disruptors will have plenty of media-deal options not anticipated just two years ago because…
All You Need Is An App. The NFL has committed to network and cable television through 2033. That should keep the linear “platform” as the traditional way major sports reach a majority of Americans. But the upstart leagues have global aspirations and potentially angry parties at Viacom and Comcast should they lure players away. Thanks to improved streaming technology that should only get better, the anarchists can now navigate around the traditional media powers. The older golf audience might initially struggle to shift over to streaming coverage. But the Masters has been providing a blueprint for such a presentation. If top players flee the PGA Tour for a new league, fans could download an app and pay the equivalent of two dozen Pro-V1’s for a year of mostly ad-free coverage.
Player shift. After several name players defended the PGA Tour in Spring 2020, the multitude of loud and proud defenders gave way to a quiet majority supporting the PGA Tour. Fast-forward 16 months and more players seem to be listening. Some big names have made clear they’re not impressed with the Tour’s response to the threats. When nice guys like Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler can’t rule out a new pro golf model, they’ve gotten very attractive offers. And in one interview, Phil Mickelson all but revealed the Tour’s deepest secrets. He seems ready to bolt. Again, none of this was the case pre-pandemic. Plus…
Athletes May Not Care Where The Money Comes From. The World Golf Group’s Premier Golf League concept (PGL) faced criticism for taking seed money from the Public Investment Fun of Saudi Arabia. That was at the height of coverage surrounding journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Even though we know more than ever about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s goals, it seems like sportwashing is working. Most of the world seems to know the Crown Prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing and any number of atrocities. But the $450 billion fund Mohammed bin Salman chairs has expanded holdings in major corporations and sports, including the recent Newcastle purchase. Already, the outrage is cooling off. Why? All because the Saudi money will be used to build a better team. Golfers seem to have gone from concerned about taking Saudi money to some level of open-mindedness (see Paul Casey).
Majors are more major than ever. After years of trying to make The Players and the Presidents Cup equivalents to their more famous older siblings, it’s as if the full-court press backfired. By trying to force very nice events into the category of majors the Tour only strengthened the Masters, PGA, U.S. Open and Open Championship. And while leaving the PGA Tour would likely cost players a chance to qualify for the Ryder Cup, plenty have hinted that eligibility in the majors takes priority. To that point…
Asian Tour Partnership - The recent Saudi-Asian Tour partnership may have purchased a way to get Official World Golf Ranking points for SGL tournaments. That workaround was unimaginable 18 months ago.