The PDGA Should Suspend The National Tour

Nov 19, 2019 | Articles, DGU

Steve Dodge. Photo: Alyssa Van Lanen – PDGA

The PDGA National Tour was a great idea when it was introduced in 2003. Take the best A-tier events, put them into a cohesive tour, encourage media coverage through a public relations firm, and raise the bar for our sport’s premier events.

It was a huge step forward for our sport, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the PDGA board that had the vision to take this step as well as the staff and event directors that made the NT a reality. The sport instantly looked more professional, the PDGA had better representation throughout North America, and the pros had another gauge by which to measure the quality of events. It was an important step towards legitimizing disc golf as a professional competitive sport. Over the next dozen years, several positives were implemented on the NT platform and, as appropriate, trickled down to A, B, and C-tier tournaments.

When the Disc Golf Pro Tour and Disc Golf World Tour started operations in 2016, the PDGA was cautiously supportive. Recognizing that the two entities were bringing something significant to the pro side of the game, the PDGA provided PR through its website and social channels, preferential scheduling, and placeholder financial support.

In 2016, it would have been wholly inappropriate for the PDGA to fully embrace the World Tour or Pro Tour and presume that these two tours would succeed. Indeed, the World Tour ceased operations after two seasons and the Pro Tour has consistently been financially unstable, losing money every year since I started it. The PDGA’s foundational focus merited their cautious support.

Now, though, the PDGA should end the National Tour model — or suspend it indefinitely — and put the full weight of the organization behind the Pro Tour to secure its success for the betterment of the pro side of the game and the growth of the sport, both of which fulfill the PDGA mission.

Our Governing Body

The PDGA does a very good job of setting a foundation for our sport. For years, and certainly since I served on the PDGA Board of Directors from 2006 to 2008, the organization has been focused on ensuring that it had a strong financial position and could sustain disc golf through any tough times that may develop. This approach has allowed disc golf to flourish with the knowledge that the sport as a whole will not take any significant steps backward. The floor is well set.

The PDGA has many operational goals including assisting with course development, creating standards for course maintenance and green initiatives, getting disc golf into grade schools, developing more and better media, developing and clarifying rules, continuously updating technical and competitive standards, and growing the pro side of the game.

These are just a few of the areas in which the PDGA spreads its resources. There is lots to do and there are never enough hands to do the work. So when a group, be it a for-profit or a non-profit, wants to focus on any aspect of fulfilling the PDGA mission, the governing body should be as supportive as possible. When I served on the board, Tim Gostovic was developing Disc Golf Course Review. There were significant discussions as to whether the PDGA should work to help Tim and embrace his efforts or perhaps create something similar that the PDGA owned and would control.

In retrospect, it seems clear that the PDGA should have supported the DGCR efforts while creating a space for others to create similar or additive services. By having an outside organization, and hopefully a partner, produce a product or service that the PDGA would otherwise have to expend resources to create, the PDGA is able to use its budget on other things and expand the reach and growth of the game. This is the exact model that has subsequently been taken with UDisc and developing media companies, and it is working well. It is a model that suggests how the organization should approach the Pro Tour.

Is the NT now a net negative?

Right now, there are two organizations spending money to do the same thing. The first, the PDGA, is a non-profit governing body with the goal of promoting and fostering the growth of the sport. The second, the DGPT, is a for-profit business that focuses on the elite segment of the game and works to increase professionalism and viewership. With side-by-side National and Pro Tours, the two organizations are spending money twice to do one thing, and the National Tour comes at the additional cost of absorbing significant time and energy from PDGA staff.

With two “competing” tours, fans, media, and sponsors get confused, feel discouraged, and lose interest. When I was with the DGPT, I remember us getting angry messages during NTs asking why there was no live broadcast. External media organizations get confused as well. I personally have explained to journalists at ESPN, NBC, CBS, and NPR that there are two different disc golf tours. The lack of cohesion unnecessarily complicates what could be a simple, marketable product. Right now, potential sponsors will either split their ad spend or take a wait-and-see approach. Fans, external media, and sponsors are all negatively impacted by the existence of two tours.

It also has a mixed impact on the players. When designing the Pro Tour, the pros liked geographical sensibility, further improving equipment standards, a season-ending tournament, and increased minimum added cash. The one thing they pushed back on was having back-to-back events, a part of my original proposal to them. With 21 to 23 DGPT, NT, and PDGA Major schedules coming together, there are many weekends where premier events are on consecutive weekends as well as some that directly overlap. For the fans, this may seem like a win — more great disc golf to watch — but it is a drain on the players that can (and has) lead to injury or burnout.

What’s Different Now?

The primary difference between the coming 2020 season and years past is the recapitalization of the Pro Tour by its new ownership group. For the first time ever, the Pro Tour is in a solid financial position. There is enough funding to survive for two years even with minimal income. In those two years, the number of people watching will continue to grow and the monetization of the media should get the Pro Tour to profitability. With PDGA support and the NT disbanded, the Pro Tour’s success is a near certainty.

The PDGA would be able to save money, support the pro side of the game, and build a valuable long-term collaborative partnership with the Pro Tour. This would also make scheduling much easier as the Pro Tour, working with the PDGA, would be the only series to schedule between PDGA Majors and A-Tier date requests. Currently, planning the NT and PT simultaneously around the Majors is very difficult and, at times, causes significant scheduling issues.

In addition to the recapitalization, the Pro Tour will succeed because the new Tour Director Jeff Spring will communicate with the players more than I did and utilize their fan base and social media reach. This was and is one of my significant shortcomings. Whether I was trying to be considerate of others in their space or simply believed that I had the answers, I often times did not reach out for help or advice from the pros. Jeff’s positive relationship with the players will encourage them to push the Pro Tour forward, building an audience even faster.

The Pro Tour is on stable financial ground, has more fans than ever, has a foundation of fantastic events, and is eager to work collaboratively with the PDGA. It also has many partners which look at the Pro Tour through their own frame, including players, venues, fans, the PDGA, advertisers, and media. Jeff has the ability to see their needs and find the optimal path forward. His decision to lead the Pro Tour in its second phase is the reason it will succeed.

Two Possible Paths

If the PDGA is still concerned about the long-term sustainability of the Pro Tour, they could choose to just place the NT on hiatus for two years and give the Pro Tour room to breathe and grow. This would be just the thing that the Pro side of the game needs to really burst into the mainstream consciousness.

Imagine a world where the PDGA is giving its full-throated support to the Pro Tour. New fans, outside media, and potential partners can reach out to both the PDGA or the Pro Tour and hear the exact same thing about the pro side of the sport. All eyes would point in the same direction and more and bigger partners will look to join with the Pro Tour. The DGPT would continue to encourage spectators and new players to join the PDGA. It would also support PDGA initiatives through Pro Tour media, social channels, and eventually some financial support as the Pro Tour becomes profitable.

The continuation of this hiatus could be contingent on the Pro Tour meeting viewership, sustainability, external partners and media, and player and TD approval goals. Not only will the PDGA be ensuring success at the pro level of the game, they will be saving money and time for other initiatives. Now that the Pro Tour has solid financial footing and will be working collaboratively with the PDGA, let’s call on the PDGA to suspend or cease the National Tour at the end of the 2020 season to give the Pro Tour an increased opportunity to succeed.

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