New PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has started giving interviews and telegraphing a post-Finchem strategy that involves a big schedule change concept and a desire for golf network ownership stake.
Speaking to WSJ's Brian Costa, Monahan confirmed a desire to move The Players back to March and wrap up the "playoffs" before NFL opening weekend:
“That’s certainly something that we would like to see happen,” Monahan said. “Having big events every month, culminating in the FedEx Cup playoffs in August prior to the NFL season, that would be a very powerful schedule.”
Such a change would require the cooperation of the PGA of America, a separate organization that runs the PGA Championship but also has a seat on the policy board that oversees the PGA Tour. Monahan said it is unlikely to happen in 2018.
You will recall that PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua has dangled this idea as well, but as I laid out in this post, such a move will, at least agronomically, likely mean the end of visits to beloved PGA of America markets in Minneapolis, Rochester and Milwaukee/Sheboygan. The greater New York City area even becomes dicey in years that have rough Springs.
While the concept is largely brilliant in concentrating golf to a tighter, more fan-friendly season, the central question remains: will the PGA of America take this risk that also could mean a smaller TV audience than they usually get in sports-light August, all so that the low-rated FedExCup playoffs can be finished prior to the NFL and college football seasons?
To put it another way, all of the risk taken here is taken on by the PGA of America to essentially save the FedExCup playoffs. What is their reward?
In regards to a network opt-out that would be almost require a new network schedule, Monahan was asked by Costa if the long term, post-2021 goal might be to start a new PGA Tour network.
“That’s not a core goal,” he said. “Could it happen?” He remained silent for several seconds, leaving the question unanswered.
At the very least, Monahan said it would make sense for the Tour to gain partial ownership of a network as part of its next broadcast rights agreements, rather than simply selling those rights for cash. “That would be a great result,” he said. Golf Channel is owned by NBCUniversal.
I'm always fascinated by the desire for ownership over having someone pay you for the privilege. Given the state of the other sports league channels, I'd take the checks.
Monahan also gave a lengthy interview to PGATour.com's Mike McAllister, who covers virtually every big topic on the table except the state of renewal talks with FedEx.
You can head there to read the explanation of a global tour and many other topics.
A few highlights from Monahan talking to McAllister...
“I really don't hear that much about the wraparound schedule. I hear a lot of positives about the wraparound schedule, but I don't get a lot of questions about why or whether it's working. I think the reality is that, again, going back to demand, there's such demand for the PGA TOUR and for professional golf that obviously if you can put 47 events on the calendar, you're doing something right. And if you were to make changes, and I'm not suggesting what those changes would be, but if those changes resulted in fewer events, that creates openings on your schedule that the demand will fill.
“I think we're in a position now where we feel like we're doing the right thing for our membership and for our fans because they're clearly responding.”
The fans have responded by not tuning in to watch the fall events since joining the FedExCup umbrella. That is indeed clear!
On new formats like the two-man event coming to the Zurich Classic, Monahan leaves the door wide open, especially if it delivers "non-core" fans.
“So you've got to look at formats. You've got to look at the way you present your product through the media. You've got to look at the way our players engage through their own social media platforms. You've really got to look at every facet of what you're doing and be intensely focused on trying to reach that audience, and I think we have.
“I know we all as an organization are giving a lot of thought to perhaps being far more aggressive in marketing to that audience to bring them in, and I think you'll see us be testing, innovating, and perhaps getting our message to audiences in areas that we haven't done in the past.”
He calls pace of play "complicated". Still, it was bold for McCallister to bring up a topic that would have had Tim Finchem asking the writer for a resignation letter upon the interview's completion.
“What we're trying to do, like every other part of our business, is be as close to and intimate with the data so that in working with everybody, we're doing everything we can to address pace of play. But I would tell you that we feel like we've taken a lot of positive steps in the last couple of years.
“You always have to look at the fact that everybody that's living today is trying to do what they did yesterday faster. And so it's no different for our game, and I think that's something we've got to continue to take very seriously. There's no easy solution, though.”
Never know until you try a penalty stroke!
Perhaps most fascinating was the reveal of a Silicon Valley trip.
In June, several key TOUR executives and digital officers made a West Coast visit to companies such as Amazon, Google, YouTube, Facebook and Apple. With each visit, the TOUR team gained insight and knowledge as to how the TOUR was viewed through the prism of digital users. The visit to Facebook was especially eye-opening in terms of how much work the TOUR needed to do in order to increase its brand exposure, especially among millennial consumers.
I thought millennials don't like Facebook? Go on...
Says Monahan: “The No. 1 takeaway that we all had and something we talked about as we were all coming back is as much video content as we're creating, we probably need to create somewhere in the magnitude of three to five times more as we go forward. We have a significant investment in our digital media across all of our platforms (but) I think you could expect that we're still fairly embryonic in the way we're approaching that in terms of investment level.
Embryonic. Someone's been spending too much time around Commissioner Coterminous!
“Producing more content, perhaps looking at some of the ways ‑‑ some of the guidelines that we have in place and making certain that we're welcoming content creation where appropriate, and we're starting to use the power of our players and their own networks to help build not only their profiles but the profile of the TOUR and the game. So I think that's a big opportunity.
“We also learned how much they knew about us, which was pretty remarkable, and I think one of the things that we took away was we know a lot about our fans. We know a lot about our spectators. But we really need to have a concerted approach to be as knowledgeable as we possibly can about our fans and their interests and their needs, and I think we're on a really good path there, and that's something that you'll see develop in '17.”
Even with all of the digital talk, Monahan wisely reiterated that they are not taking their eye off the ball, with television as the primary product, suggesting the idea of streaming the PGA Tour on alternate networks may not be ready for prime time.
“I strongly believe that the most valuable product is going to be our linear product, our television product, because that allows us to reach the masses and for the masses to experience the PGA TOUR and our players playing at the highest level.
“Social media, mobile, all of that augments what we're doing and improves the experience that the fan can have. So whether it's continuing to improve and enhance ShotLink, whether it's allowing players to shoot video earlier in the week from the tournament to create greater awareness of that tournament and help them build their profiles, that ability to be talking all the time is a great opportunity for us to grow our audience and grow interest in our tournaments and our players.
“But it has to augment and support what we're doing from a television standpoint, and we feel like we're doing a really good job on that front. But what we think of that world today, mobile and digital and now 80 percent of our fans are consuming their content via mobile, that will look very different in a year or two from now. Having the ability to adapt and being flexible about content and rights is something that is and will continue to be very important for us and our media partners.”
That seems like a pretty wise approach given the age of the golf audience and its willingness to search for the PGA Tour on something besides a television. Furthermore, the discussion of seeing social media and online video as a way to augment the "product" instead of a replacement will assure those concerned that the tour might move too quickly into unproven mediums.