Golf

The Premier Golf League is Hoping to Overthrow the PGA Tour

ESPN – It was no coincidence when Phil Mickelson’s partners during the pro-am at last week’s Saudi International tournament happened to be three key figures in a proposed new golf tour that could potentially shake the foundations of the longstanding PGA Tour and European Tour and enrich the biggest names in the game.

A few days earlier, Mickelson had told reporters in San Diego that he was “intrigued” by a concept known as the Premier Golf League that would launch in two years’ time and potentially have limited fields, guaranteed paydays, $10 million purses and a team concept with ownership stakes.

New sports leagues sprouting up to compete with established giants that have been around since the 1920s is nothing new. We have the latest one in the XFL kicking off this weekend and now there are reports of a brand new experimental golf league looking to take on the PGA Tour; the Premier Golf League.

Wait, what?

The Premier Golf League is something that has been in the works for the past few years, but due to Phil Mickelson’s recent pro-am partners is starting to attract a lot of attention. This new tour would look to shake things up, consist of 48 players with 18 tournaments played weekly in the US and other countries.

“The events would be 54 holes with no cut and shotgun starts over the first two days to better showcase all the players during a television window.”

A shotgun start is intriguing because how often do you want to watch a specific golfer or two and they’re playing at 7 am and 3 pm respectively. Not exactly conducive to a neat and tidy TV (or streaming) broadcast. So having everyone tee off at the same time makes watching all your favorite golfers at once a reality.

Thats not even the biggest proposed tweak.

“There would be 12 teams of four players each, with a season-long competition that culminates in a season-ending event for players and teams.”

The PGA Tour tries to build this season long momentum with the FedEx Cup and a bonus to the individual points leader, but the team format could be interesting. Rather than rooting for just one or two guys that you like, with this concept you’d pick a team to follow all year long. I don’t know if that is too different from rooting for a specific guy, but the marketing power of four golfers coming together on one entity could be a windfall for awareness and merchandise sales.

Speaking of sales, the main driver behind this new league is of course money. Big money.

“The Premier Golf League is talking about $240 million, with a $10 million weekly purse for 17 events with a season-ending event. There would be $2 million paid to the winner, and a $10 million bonus to the overall individual champion. In addition, there would be a $40 million team bonus pool.”

That is some serious dough being thrown around, which is why this is starting to make some sense. Whether it’s realistic to launch a $240 million golf league from nothing remains to be seen, but I can see why guys would be listening. On the PGA Tour purses range from $3-$12 million with 1st place taking home anywhere from $500k-$2.1 million depending on the event. Not exactly chump change, but thats over the course of 50 events. Compare that to this Premier Golf League where in theory an elite golfer could be bringing in $1-$2 million *every week* for 4 months straight.

“Many in the golf world have declined to comment. They are sensitive to what the PGA Tour (and European Tour) has accomplished but also curious what this is all about. The reason? There is a sense among those in the game that the top players are underpaid.”

A guy like Mickelson “only” made $2.4 million on the tour in 2019, but he also raked in more than $40 million in endorsements last year. Lefty likely isn’t going to be winning a tournament a week at his age so I’d have to imagine there’s some serious equity investment opportunities being offered to make it worth his while.

However, all it takes is one top ranked player like Brooks Koepka to consider this new venture and it suddenly starts to become an uncomfortable conversation at PGA Tour HQ. Koepka made $9.6 million on the tour last year so in theory guys like him could double their take home pay with a strong four month stretch in this new league.

Thats one thing for the superstars of the game, but it might be a risk that players without gigantic endorsement deals to fall back wouldn’t be willing to take. Especially if it puts them at odds with the PGA Tour.

“As a member of the PGA Tour, a player agrees to certain stipulations, as expected. One of them is that you cannot play in competing events around the world. And since the tour has events some 48 weeks of the year, that’s a problem…To play the Premier Golf League, a player would basically have to leave the PGA Tour.”

If I’m a guy on the fringe of the PGA Tour, I’m probably happy playing golf for a living and taking home a million bucks a year. Why bite the hand that feeds you and risk your wellbeing on an upstart league that could go bankrupt before Labor Day?

That seems to be the selling point though as the PGL is aimed at making big bucks for the biggest stars, but not everybody gets to be Tiger Woods so they’ll need to assuage the fears of the other 47 guys they hope to sign up or this could wind up being a failure to launch.

But what would make fans feel the need to watch this new league? What would it do differently than the standards the PGA Tour have put in place? Golf Digest pointed out the answer could be in the league’s initial investors:

“We’d be remiss in forgetting the gambling element to golf. It’s worth noting one of the early partners is the Raine Group, which was integral in funding venture capital rounds for daily fantasy site DraftKings. It’s not a matter of if betting will be involved, an agent told Golf Digest, but to what extent, and how much of the cut will go in the players’ direction.”

Now we’re cooking with gas! Imagine a golf league with gambling fully baked into every broadcast? I was already screaming at the TV as Tiger cost me $1,200 bucks with his vintage win at The Masters last year. Imagine a broadcast with live updated odds, prop bets, and the commentators discussing fading a guy after he junks a couple of tee shots? Now THAT sounds like a great Saturday afternoon.

These upstart sports leagues fail way more often than they succeed, but there are success stories over the years. The key to those success stories is always innovation so it’s imperative for the Premier Golf League to shake things up if they want to stick around. We’re still a couple of years away from this launching, if ever, but I will be watching this like a hawk because who doesn’t love a little chaos?

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