Lack of Tiger May Kill Another Big Event

The Chairman of EDS says that they’ll cancel their sponsorship if the PGA Tour doesn’t get the Byron Nelson a better spot on the schedule—one in which top players will partipate:

For EDS to remain title sponsor, the PGA Tour needs to help get marquee names back, Mr. Rittenmeyer said. He told Tour commissioner Tim Finchem last week that the tournament needs a date that is more popular with players.

“Our title sponsorship comes to a close in two years, and if he wants us to continue, he’s going to have to come to the table and help us,” Mr. Rittenmeyer said.

The Tour’s got a problem. Everyone wants Tiger. And if they can’t get him, it seems as though some Tournament sponsors are going to pull out. The International died that way; so have others.

The problem is that they can’t all have Tiger. The Striped One is only going to play in a limited number of events each year (and he has every right to do so). You can be sure he’ll be at the four majors, the Players, the Buick Invitational or Open (a sponsor), the WGC events and his own two tournaments.  Beyond that, it’s a crapshoot. Tournament sponsors are just going to have to live with that.

I also predict that his schedule will be come increasingly limited. First, he’ll cut back to the 15 event minimum for membership on the Tour. Then, he’ll cut even that, and play the Majors, plus a few warm up events. He doesn’t need the Tour. Tournaments will give him a sponsors exemption whenever he picks up the phone and says he wants to play. And he frankly doesn’t need the money, either. Very soon, he’ll become sports’ first billion dollar man (literally).

So what’s the Tour going to do? They can’t just cut it back to the 15 events that Tiger and a few other top players will agree to play in.

There’s an interesting implication in another quote from Rittenmeyer:

Mr. Rittenmeyer said the Tour’s new FedEx Cup reduces the importance of regular events (emphasis mine). The season-long format, which debuted last year, includes three playoffs for the FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship. Points earned in regular events determine playoff seeding.

“I wasn’t happy with the FedEx Cup, and they know that,” Mr. Rittenmeyer said. “They did it to get some more excitement, some more money in the game. But we didn’t get a vote, and we didn’t get to discuss it.”

I can see the PGA Tour devolving into a two-or-three tier schedule. First tier events—those Tiger and other top players will play in—will command a certain minimum purse, and a high set of standards. They may even be worth more FedEx Cup points. Those will attract the big money sponsors. For second tier (non-Tiger) events, the Tour will have to accept a smaller purse minimum, fewer perks and lesser standards; less will be expected of those sponsors, so there will be more availability. The Fall series will be the third tier, perhaps sponsored by your local mon-and-pop party store.

Cutting the purses and perks in second tier events also will have the effect of driving the big names to the big money tournaments. That will further enhance the value of those for the sponsors.

The nightmare scenario for the Tour is a constant revolving door of sponsors for non-Tiger events—and perhaps the death of a few. Sponsors will sign up, soon realize that they can’t attract Tiger and other top ten players, and then withdraw. I’m not sure I’d lay down $6 million a year—as EDS has done—if I couldn’t be assured of half a dozen top players.

It won’t look good to have a hole in the schedule, but if a proper sponsor can’t be found, its not clear to me what the Tour would do.

And I predict that the day is coming when the Tour is going to face just that problem.


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