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Saturday, May 08, 2021

Explained: Why Tiger Woods could get $8 million from PGA Tour for social media activity

The PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program, which aims to reward players based on their popularity and social media impact, regardless of their results on the course, has left the golfing fraternity divided.

Written by Tushar Bhaduri | New Delhi |
Updated: May 5, 2021 10:57:34 am
This picture of recuperating Tiger Woods went viral (Instagram/@TigerWoods)

The world’s best golfers are some of the most highly-paid and richest sportspersons. Tiger Woods (8th) and Rory McIlroy (14th) find themselves in the top 20 of Forbes’ 2020 List of Highest-paid Athletes in the World.

In that regard, the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program, which aims to reward players based on their popularity and social media impact, regardless of their results on the course, has left the golfing fraternity divided.

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What is the Player Impact Program?

It stipulates a $40 million fund, to be distributed among 10 golfers to “recognise and reward players who positively move the needle” by generating interest and coverage for the sport, including engagement on social media. The biggest share, $8 million, will go to the player adjudged the most valuable in this regard. It was implemented four months ago, but came to light only recently.

How will the players be ranked on this program?

The PGA Tour will use an algorithm to rank the players on their ‘Impact Score.’ The criteria include:

– Popularity on Google search
– Nielsen Brand Exposure rating, which measures the value a player delivers to sponsors via his total time featured on broadcasts
– Q-rating, a metric of the familiarity and appeal of player’s brand
– MVP rating, a measure of how much engagement a player’s social media and digital channels drive
– Meltwater mentions, or the frequency with which a player is mentioned across a range of media channels.

What has prompted this move?

The PGA Tour wants to keep its most valuable assets in good humour even if they don’t win.

Even when Woods was at his peak, his winning rate was about 30 per cent.

The likes of Woods, McIlroy, Bryson Dechambeau, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler may not win all the time, but the tour realises that they trigger fan interest, generating TV viewership and, crucial in the present age, social media traffic.

For example, a recent picture of Woods on crutches on Instagram, as he recovers from a car accident, went viral on social media. The Tour just wants to recognise such impact the biggest names make.

It’s not inconceivable for Woods to be richer by $8 million without hitting a golf ball in competition any time soon.

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Are they responding to any external threat?

The new scheme may have been prompted by the threat of a potential breakaway Premier Golf League (PGL), funded by Saudi financiers. It aims to start a rival tour by attracting the most high-profile players, not necessarily the best on current form, and offering guaranteed money through events regardless of results.

Even though the PGL, which grabbed headlines at the beginning of 2020, didn’t manage any recruits, the PGA Tour and European Tour may have been pushed into protecting their most popular members.

What are the arguments offered in favour of the Player Impact Fund?

There are only a handful of players who drive interest in the game, push sponsorship, prize money and profile. Woods himself has been instrumental in the exponential increase in prize money of tournaments since he burst onto the scene, which has made everyone better off.

The fans are more likely to be attracted by a bigger name than a journeyman professional, even if the latter wins a tournament.

Big names result in more tickets and merchandise sold, viewership increasing and sponsors being attracted.

It explains why Australian broadcasters were left disappointed at the news of Virat Kohli missing a large part of the tour at the turn of the year.

What are the detractors saying?

That it goes contrary to one of the basic tenets of sport, awarding merit. Tweeting, posting pictures on Instagram and generating social media content aren’t primary skills that should be required of professional golfers to earn money.

The move showers money on those who need it the least. The money could be more useful on the feeder tours, in various other parts of the world, or giving a boost to the women’s game.

What has been the reaction among players?

Olympic champion and former US Open winner Justin Rose can see merit in the move. “You do want to incentivise the top players to create content… With media dollars being so astronomical these days (there are) four, five, six guys always being the ones that are used to promote the tournament,” Rose said. “I guess it’s just a way of trying to sort of incentivise them and help them out, not that they need much helping out.”

Former Masters winner Fred Couples wasn’t too impressed. “Let me get this straight. There’s 40 mil to play for the guys on the @pgatour based on social media likes and tweets?! The only tweets I’ve ever heard make you money are birdie tweet tweets! Good luck with that,” he posted.

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