If You Thought Professional Golf Was In Trouble …

If you thought pro golf was in trouble, how about this: David Stern says that the NBA will lose $400 million this year.

It’s the insane salaries, of course. And the culprits aren’t the players, but the owners. No one says team owners have to pay $80 million to a kid who barely got out of high school. They choose to do that. If just half the owners had acted like a fiscally responsible, rational adults and refused to feed player demands, the madness would have stopped. There are only so many teams, and so many roster spots. After the Lakers, Knicks, Bulls, Pistons, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Celtics and Rockets spent their millions, where would the rest of the free agents go? If I was the owner of one of the bottom half teams in profitability—the Bucs, Hornets, Timberwolves, etc.—I simply would tell the free agents that I wasn’t paying more than the league minimum. They could take it or leave it. And since the top teams already had their fill, what alternative would they have?

With a much smaller salary, those smaller market teams would be able to lower ticket prices drastically, put butts in the seats and still make a profit. It would take guts and nerves of steel for the small market owners, but it would keep them in the black.

Which brings me back to professional golf. The PGA Tour has managed to find sponsors for its events this year, presumably at the price they demanded. But I wonder if Finchem and company shouldn’t take the long view and begin reducing sponsor costs and purses. Tiger, as this past year’s events have shown, won’t be around forever. A gradual but steady reduction in prices over the course of Tiger’s remaining career is the only prudent course of action.

The players won’t like it, but what choice would they have? If they want to play, they play for the purses offered. Defecting to the European Tour would not be an option, as their total purse is approximately $145 million, compared to the PGA Tour’s $275 million.

The hard line likely would have benefits other than financial stability. Players would have to play more often, and more aggressively. No longer would they be able to become a millionaire out of a career of 30th place finishes. And we likely wouldn’t see players hanging on for decades in 100th place on the money list. They wouldn’t be able to afford it. Instead, room would be made for fresh talent, thereby increasing the competition.

The alternative to getting a grip on the finances now is an NBA-like meltdown at Tiger’s retirement, with suddenly crashing tournaments, prizes and sponsorships.

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7 thoughts on “If You Thought Professional Golf Was In Trouble …”

  1. I also think the PGA purses should be reduced. The players have already balked at the idea even in the face of all of this US economic trouble. It’s like they have no clue, thinking that no matter what happens, the tour will always find the money for them. I think that’s on par with the US Congress thinking that no matter what happens, they can just afford every hairbrained idea they come up with each year for the budget. It’s this kind of financial irresponsibility that has gotten America into the shape it’s in with people running up credit card debt, taking out mortgages they can’t afford and generally spending beyond their means. I wonder when people will wake up and realize that their behavior has to change. It doesn’t seem like we’re going to get any “leading by example” from the leaders in the US.

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  2. Makes sense.  However, perhaps the purses should take a hit for the top prizes on an event – decreasing the disparity between what is paid to the overall winner and those who failed to make the cut.

    I almost want to puke for even writing that – but my logic is this: Top players, the big money winners, make bucks from their endorsements on a greater scale than their winnings (Tiger might make $10 mil on winnings, but $100 mil on endorsements).  The prize for winning a tournament should be a token of achievement, but making it a windfall takes the spirit of the game out of it, IMO.  That sounds horribly anti-capitalistic, and I suppose if an event wants to draw Tiger & Phil, certainly they can have a huge payout, but it is not necessary for the good of the tour overall.  I say bring back the oversize checks for $100k to the winner, and give that with the trophy.

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  3. You’re right. Pro golf is going to have to readjust. I’m not sure, though, whether you’ll see a higher caliber of overall talent.

    One writer (I forget who) observed a couple of years back that a significant percentage of incoming pro-golfers were capable of playing other professional sports. Apparently the chance of making good money (for a pro) and less chance of injury were factors.

    Ah, we’ll see.

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  4. Pappy- the inclusion of the top possible player would not be a factor in doing this—that was included in what I was saying.  I think it is more important for this sport to have people that want to play this game and honor this game.  If you are going to just go after the top level talent, than you are not going to be able to compete against basketball or football.  That’s where baseball fails—stop honoring what is special about the game and just pay for the best possible individuals and you lose the soul of the game.

    Golf is the only major sport where amateur still has a meaning.  There is a connection between the weekend warriors and the players on the tour that is not there between a softball player and someone playing for the Reds.  Everyone plays by the exact same rulebook, with some slight variations in that rulebook between the amateur and the pro.

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  5. I don’t disagree, Martin. Unfortunately the “modern sports industry” has raised its head in golf. It’s going to be awfully tough to get rid of it.

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  6. It really is amazing to me many unremarkable players still clear a million a year (obviously the same of which could be said of all sports, but mediocrity blends easier into a team).

    I read that it costs about $150,000 a year in expenses to play the PGA Tour, and $80,000 a year for LPGA Tour. Approximately 198 PGA Tour covered their expenses last year, while approximately only 80 did on the LPGA Tour. Interesting factoid for me.

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