Why a Tournament Director is excited about tour changes
There’s a presentation in the Sunshine State detailing the future of the PGA Tour. It’s not clear how many slides are on the deck, but the ratification two weeks ago caught Rory McIlroy for seven hours in a board meeting. Last week it was featured at the Players Championship for a players meet at 7:30am. Not everyone attended, but it certainly changed minds and stimulated debate in the ranks.
The deck was also shared privately with various sponsors and tournament directors at PGA Tour headquarters just down the driveway. “We came in with about 50 pages of questions,” says Hollis Cavner, who oversees the 3M Open, the Wells Fargo Championship and this week’s Valspar Championship. If it wasn’t clear before, it should be now. For the PGA Tour to be successful, many mouths must be paid and many hungry people.
Cavner has hosted pro golf events for more than three decades but promises he “doesn’t drink the PGA Tour Kool-Aid.”
“I’ve been known to argue and fight for a lot of things when I don’t think it’s right for my sponsor,” he says. So last week, armed and ready, he walked into a 90-minute meeting at tour headquarters. “Every time you make a systemic change like them, it makes people nervous as hell. No matter who you are and how good you are at your job. Everyone gets nervous. You know, am I going to be relegated to left field?”
The main problem: he couldn’t drill holes in any part of the presentation.
“I have to say coming out of this I felt really good about where we were. My sponsors loved where we were,” says Cavner. “Some people will argue, but if you weren’t in this room and went through every single facet of it point by point? Then you don’t know.”
That means everything from TV product to sponsorship awards to the amount of FedEx Cup points for 15th place in Phoenix and 45th place in Augusta.
Cavner will tell you all about the calculations sponsors make to get a higher return on their investment. They factor in TV time and social media impressions and the number of eyeballs present in person and the goodwill created for the community. The list goes on, especially after those final putt drops. “You have to be relevant 52 weeks a year,” he says, but their efforts almost always start in the same place: the field. Who is playing your tournament?
When Tiger Woods commits to your tournament like he did with the Valspar in 2018, it was worth an extra million dollars to the tournament budget in no time. Ticket sales are increasing, sponsorship impressions are increasing. More people are spending more time on the course, eating more hamburgers and driving concession sales. According to Cavner, most events cost about $20 million to host. So if a single player can increase your fundraising by 5%, that’s a big deal. Woods’ popularity is understandably an anomaly, but Cavner says big-name players collectively can impact budgets in similar ways. Therefore, hunting for them can be a year-round job. Cavner and some of the Tour executives he works with can sometimes act like college football coaches, urging the pros to “don’t forget about us” when making their schedules. It is valuable when players want to play “the Valspar”. It’s not The Tampa Open.
The PGA Tour was spot on when it shifted its relatively flat rewards structure into a kind of food chain where the biggest purses go to the best players first. Money speaks louder than anything aimed at tour membership and we’re seeing it right now. Various pros – even some who would not be considered “elite” – play an exclusively set schedule in the early months of the year.
But this trend has raised some fears about how the other Tournaments would survive in between. It was only exacerbated when Honda, a 40-year-old event sponsor, stepped down from the role of title sponsor in November (although the event’s former executive said that’s not why a sponsorship wasn’t renewed). And then, just this month, the WGC-Dell Match Play event was removed from the future schedule. Add that to the looming sense of a fractured membership thanks to LIV Golf, and “we were all as concerned as it could be,” says Cavner. “I mean, every tournament – anyone in their right mind was worried that this was going to have a negative impact on the tour.”
What the Tour has done, Cavner thinks, is simply encourage all players to keep playing. The schedule will have “pods,” as Cavner called them, portions of the season where lower-ranked players can play their way through to larger events during which higher-ranked players should probably continue to compete to stay on top of things. The Valspar will benefit from this. As McIlroy said last week, he has no interest in taking three weeks off during the season. Both Cavner and McIlroy have cited that the 3M Open should also benefit as they slot right after the British Open on the schedule. Many top players took a break between the Open and the FedEx Cup Playoffs last year, but there are too many rewards to hand out now and too few seats on the Top 50 bus leading to the big money events in the drive next year. The 3M now sits squarely in the final hunt for playoff position. That helps Cavner’s recruiting efforts. He expects his event to be “10x better” in terms of field. “I have a chartered plane from Europe straight back to Minneapolis that they can all ride,” he says. His tournament has long been like that, but now the PGA Tour behaves like the rewards program. Take that flight, play that event, and you could reap a lot in hindsight.
If he could complain about anything the Tour has done in recent weeks, Cavner was upset with how the information was shared. The frantic way in which the news broke – a GolfWeek report led many Tour players, sponsors and event directors to tweet for key information about their future – was unfortunate. And it caused various parties to react rashly without having seen the deck themselves. That can happen when there are so many mouths to feed and everyone wants something different. Cavner is glad he made the trip to Tour HQ this week in Tampa for even the busiest of days leading up to his own tournament.
“Trust me,” Cavner said. “I walked in there, a little bowed, and said, ‘Wait a minute. What is he doing here?’ You know? And as we went through it, they got better and better and better. We walked out and said, ‘This is freaking good.'”
https://golf.com/news/pga-tour-tournament-director-thrilled-by-changes/ Why a Tournament Director is excited about tour changes