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Does Payout Matter?

Yes. Obviously.
But there is more to this than, “do pros need to eat?” We want to know, “how many pros need to eat?” and “why should the tour be responsible for making sure they can eat?”
Cam Todd , an amazing artist and discer, won the Glass Blown Open this weekend. Going in to the weekend, he was ranked 31st in our Power Rankings . The two players who tied, one stroke off the lead, were the #1 and #2 players in the world, Paul McBeth and Ricky Wysocki.

Any given weekend each of these touring pros can get hot and thrill us. Cam was consistent, had his putting groove on, and managed significant adversity to recapture his lead and do just enough to hold off Paul and Ricky. Thank goodness he sells enough art to stay on tour.

Cam, like most humans, needs to eat. I am presuming a bit here, but I’m guessing that disc golf does not pay all the bills. His abilities as a painter allowed him to be on tour and thrill us at one of the most prestigious events in the world. Reread that last sentence. It is the crux of this article. He had a shot at the GBO title BECAUSE he is a great painter, not because he is a great discer.

Cam Todd is a Pro Open World Champion. The man can play.  Having said that, he is ranked 31st for a reason. There are 40 players that have a higher PDGA rating. There are 100 players within 15 rating points of him. It is safe to say that there are dozens of Cam Todds out there that, on any given weekend, could win our big events. The question is, can they afford to play?

One of the goals of the Pro Tour is to make disc golf a spectator friendly sport. To succeed, we need the same great players to be competing at every event. We need to build an emotional connection with the players we are watching. We build these connections by watching our players face adversity and persevere. Or, by having an opportunity and grabbing it – as Paul McBeth has done so many times before.

  • Clip 1: Cam has a three stroke lead. On and to the right of the sidewalk is OB. Watch the three drives. Put yourself in the shoes of a fan that likes (or does not like) Wysocki and McBeth. This is the stuff that builds the emotional connection.
  • Clip 2 : Watch it thru Cam’s putt on hole 13. Again, after watching this, it is nearly impossible to not be rooting for Cam. He is building an emotional connection with us as he fights through adversity.
  • Clip 3 : On holes 13 & 14, Cam has lost his three stroke lead and is now tied with Paul and just one ahead of Ricky, two of the most accurate drivers on tour. By this point, people watching the broadcast have to be rooting for Cam to pull things back together and make this a battle. Watch all four drives.
  • Side note: Going down the stretch, McBeth and Wysocki failed to take advantage of several opportunities, however, they did succeed in putting themselves in a position to have those opportunities. Even Michael Jordan missed game winning shots sometimes.

So, Cam perseveres. 15 years after his World Championship, he is back on the podium winning a huge event. He has just developed a cadre of fans. We now want to watch him and see how he does at the next event. We are beginning to be emotionally invested. Imagine if he was unable to compete at many more events. All the fans that want to root for him lose that emotional connection as well as a reason to watch. And yes, that could and does happen in our sport today.

Christian Dietrich, who is currently rated 7 points above Cam Todd, won the Beaver State Fling in 2010 . He held off a late charge by Nikko Locastro (who was either #1 or #2 in the world). In the post event interview, Christian stated flatly that if the tournament had been a few more holes, he had no doubt that Nikko would have won. Watching that finish and then seeing that interview, Christian made many new fans that day. Unfortunately for disc golf, there was not enough money for him to go on tour and thrill us with his skills.

In 2010, Christian played in 4 National Tour events and averaged 20th place . If he got 20th at each of them, the four NT events would have earned him $1600. As it was, his win helped him earn $3600.  Should he have gone on tour? Let’s make some presumptions:

  • A six month tour
  • A target for each touring pro of $50K earned per year (being on the road is expensive)
  • A job as a course pro for six months at $25K
  • About half of their touring income would come from winnings and half from sponsors

With all of the above, players would need roughly $500 in earnings and $500 in sponsorship each week to make touring a financially intelligent choice. Luckily for us, many of our top players play disc golf because they love the game and they are willing to scrape, live out of cars, accept couches and rides, and make it work. But if we do better by them, they will do better by us by knowing they can stay on tour, by being able to put in more hours practicing, and hopefully climbing the ladder to be our Tour Champion.

Payout does matter. In 2016, the Pro Tour’s MPO/FPO payout will be around $300K over the six events. The National Tour will have a similar payout over its seven events, but at NT events this payout will be spread across more divisions, effectively dilluting the value of this payout to the touring players. While it is easy to see the very top guys and how much money they are making between playing and sponsorships, we need to worry about the next tier of players. The McBeths, Wysockis and Schustericks need to be pushed and we need to develop the next wave of touring pros. The way we do that is by having big, deep, relatively flat payouts so that the top players in the world look at disc golf and decide it is a good life decision to go on tour and put on a show.

Our goal for the Pro Tour is to develop a sustainable tour (see next week’s blog for more on the sustainable thing) that can financially support 30 players in 2016, 50 players in 2017, and 72+ players in 2018 and beyond. If we are trying to support 30 players in 2016, then the average payout for 15th-45th (where the 30th ranked player would expect to finish most weeks) needs to be close to $500. At the Vibram Open, the average is $435, which is a pretty good start.

The Pro Tour will be geographically sensible, and showcase the best men and women on the planet at the best courses and the best tournaments with an insane, can’t look away, Tour Championship .

Are you ready to WATCH!?!?!?