Monahan Era begins
As he heads into his first week as the new PGA TOUR Commissioner, Jay Monahan provides his thoughts on several key topics
January 03, 2017
By Mike McAllister , PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Four steps. That’s the approximate distance – depending on the length of your stride, of course – between Jay Monahan’s old office and his new one inside the West building at PGA TOUR headquarters.
For most people, it’s actually 34 steps door-to-door. But thanks to an unadorned side door opposite the main entrance to the Commissioner’s office, Monahan was able to shave 30 steps. The short distance proved most convenient in the last 2-1/2 years when he served as Deputy Commissioner to Tim Finchem.
Having such close proximity to the office of the TOUR’s most powerful decision maker made a positive impact in Monahan’s apprenticeship. It allowed him to be involved in the TOUR’s most intimate dealings, to gain an insider’s knowledge, to meet and befriend golf’s biggest movers and shakers.
It also allowed the TOUR to make a seamless transition at the top of its org chart. When the 69-year-old Finchem officially announced his retirement on Nov. 7, there was no question about his replacement, as the Policy Board unanimously approved the change. “Absolutely the right guy,” was how Finchem describes his successor.
Monahan officially starts his new job as Commissioner this week. That means no more four-step trips to the side door. But in being handed the keys to a bigger office, Monahan also assumes the responsibilities, the pressure and the scrutiny that come with it.
In other words, there are no more shadows in his world. The PGA TOUR is a team effort, but he’s the person at the top now. Important decisions await.
“The great thing about moving into the role is that we've spent the last 2-1/2 years in a transitional process, and I've had the opportunity to work very closely with Tim, with our board and with our senior team,” Monahan says in an interview with PGATOUR.COM just before the holiday break.
“I feel like when we all come back for the start of 2017, we've got a plan in place. Everyone is very clear as to what we need to do, and everybody is ready to go. Maybe in a different office, but it's all about the team, and we have a great team, and we're excited to go about our business in 2017.”
It’s no surprise that he enters the new year with plenty of enthusiasm. That’s his nature. At age 46 – one year younger than when Finchem became commissioner 22 years ago – Monahan brings a youthful exuberance and energy to a sport that is looking to grow its appeal, especially to a millennial audience whose attention span is being pulled in so many directions.
It’s the can-do spirit. Monahan operates in an air of positivity. Said Finchem: “He doesn’t have a negative moment in his day. I mean, he is a total glass-is-half-full individual. I think you’ll see that as we go forward.”
On this day in December, he certainly was energetic – and with good reason. The 2016 season was a highly successful one for golf and for the TOUR. The sport returned to the Olympics after a 112-year absence, playing to great reviews. Rory McIlroy, one of the young superstars whom the TOUR will build its future on, won the FedExCup. From Dustin Johnson’s U.S. Open win to the Duel in the Sun II between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson to Jim Furyk’s record-setting 58 to the Ryder Cup showdown between McIlroy and Patrick Reed, golf’s professionals showed it could deliver consistent drama.
On the international stage, the rise of Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and the addition of a third TOUR event in Asia, as well as opening an office in Tokyo, will build upon the TOUR’s presence in that growth area that was established with the creation of PGA TOUR China. The TOUR also will have a World Golf Championships event in Mexico for the first time next year, again building upon its foundation of PGA TOUR Latinoamerica.
And of course, Tiger Woods is poised to return to TOUR competition in 2017. After a 14-month hiatus while recovering from back surgery, Woods played at his own Hero World Challenge in December. He led the field with 24 birdies, a promising sign.
“I just think that there's great energy that we bring into 2017,” Monahan says.
Still, there are also issues to be addressed. In a wide-ranging interview, the new Commissioner was asked about some of the key discussion points going into his first year.
Asked about any regrets during his 22 years as Commissioner, Tim Finchem mentioned “a little bit more progress on the global effort.” While the TOUR did increase its footprint globally under his watch, Finchem wanted to see an acceleration in that area and has referenced a global umbrella in which all tours operate. Monahan considers a burgeoning international presence as one of the TOUR’s biggest growth opportunities, but whether that results in a single-tour concept remains to be seen.
Says Monahan: “I think there's great logic to that concept. It's fairly complex. You've got a number of tours that have been existent for a long period of time. They have their own business models, their own agendas, just like we do. And so if you're going to try and pull that together under one brand, our brand, I think that's complicated.
“We are always open to looking at our schedule, looking at our product and doing so from the perspective of what's best for the player and what's best for the fan. On the surface you could argue that there's a lot of merit to looking at that, but that's a conversation that is longer term in nature.
“Right now, I would point out the fact that we really are a global tour. You can't have 85 players from 22 countries, and have the television and digital distribution that we have to virtually all corners of the world and not be global.
“I think people oftentimes look at the physical element to where events are played. The real important metric is how are you reaching people in those markets. And the best players in the world with more players coming out of emerging markets and more international stars being developed, that's only going to serve us well as we go forward.”
“I'll go back to the conversation we were just having around the Olympics. Since 2009, 115 countries were supporting golf. Now it's 150. We're at a point where we've got three international tours that are developing talent and building a solid pipeline for PGA TOUR. I think we've got 21 players now that are from those three tours that are playing on the PGA TOUR. The fact that we've got tournaments in Shanghai, a tournament in Seoul, a tournament in Kuala Lumpur, we've opened offices in Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, have a presence in Melbourne, and we will have a presence in London in 2017. We now have (those) 85 players representing 22 countries.
“That’s a long way of saying that our opportunity really is to get into those markets where we have stars or we have emerging stars to be culturally relevant, to be on the ground, to be customized to tell that story because if we can create national heroes in international markets as these players emerge, that can have a big impact on our business and on the game. So I think that's a significant opportunity.“
Finchem became TOUR Commissioner in 1994. Three years later, Tiger Woods won his first major by 12 shots at the Masters. For the next decade-plus, he took golf’s popularity to unprecedented heights, winning 78 more times. In the process, tournament purses soared. Everybody benefitted from Tiger’s generation-defining achievements – including the TOUR. Finchem compares Tiger’s impact on the TOUR to Michael Jordan’s impact on the NBA. “It lifted all boats … and brought in so many new fans to the game and changed it.”
Although Tiger will soon be back inside the TOUR ropes, no one is sure what to expect. Tiger is 41 years old, hasn’t won a TOUR event in three years and hasn’t won a major since 2008. Fortunately for the TOUR, 20-somethings such as Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – a combined seven major wins since 2011 – confidently stepped into the limelight. If there’s a dilemma – and it’s certainly a great one to have – it’s how do you market the young superstars vs. the returning legend? Will one of those players be Monahan’s “Tiger”?
Says Monahan: “I think I'm always reluctant to compliment our own organization because I'm very humble, but I think we've done a great job of balancing Tiger, particularly over the last couple years when he hasn't played, and I think that going back, there's always been a focus on celebrating his incredible successes and the fact that he's not only a great champion but he transcends all of sport. We have worked hard to let new stars emerge and take steps to try and build their profile, demonstrate how dynamic they are and try and bring more stars forward, and I think if you just look at the landscape now, we have such a healthy portfolio of players.
“But in terms of looking forward, Tiger Woods is going to be highly relevant for as long as he lives, and highly valuable to the game of golf. And we hope he's healthy. We hope he comes back and he competes, and he's certainly off to a good start in that regard. But he's going to be part of the central fabric of this game for as long as I'm alive.
“I think we all see a number of young players that have come out at an early age, competed at the highest level, handled themselves beautifully on and off the golf course. They're fully prepared. They're purposeful. They relate to the people at our tournaments. They understand their responsibilities to charity and to the communities where we play. They're very interested in our business model. And there's just a readiness and a preparedness that's pretty remarkable.
“You go back to Tiger's success, I think they've watched very closely through the years, and I think that's had an influence on how they've gotten ready how they've come up through the ranks, and I think we all see a number of players on the Web.com Tour and in the collegiate ranks and internationally, and our international tours, that give us great excitement because we know there are more to come, that we're excited to showcase.”
In 2013, the PGA TOUR adjusted its schedule from a traditional calendar-year approach to a wraparound schedule. That allowed the season to end with the FedExCup Playoffs, with the fall tournaments becoming the start of the next season. Varied and passionate opinions exist – especially outside TOUR headquarters -- on whether the TOUR should make further adjustments, perhaps trying to avoid having the Playoffs go head-to-head with the start of the NFL season.
Says Monahan: “I think the schedule that we have works exceedingly well. We're fortunate in that we've got great support from our sponsors and our partners, and I think the basis for the question is what's the demand for the product that you have, and it's very strong.
“There is merit to, and it's logical to think, that we would be looking at completing our season prior to the start of the NFL season, finishing our Playoffs and ending with a bang. So while we continue to operate under our existing schedule, we're always thinking about what are the ways that we can improve our product, and that's potentially one way.
“But it's complicated. We've got a number of partners and a number of tournaments and we've got to look at this holistically. But this TOUR has always been a never‑ending exercise of getting to the perfect product, and you never sleep comfortably when that's what you're trying to do.”
“I really don't hear that much about the wraparound schedule. I hear a lot of positives about the wraparound schedule, but I don't get a lot of questions about why or whether it's working. I think the reality is that, again, going back to demand, there's such demand for the PGA TOUR and for professional golf that obviously if you can put 47 events on the calendar, you're doing something right. And if you were to make changes, and I'm not suggesting what those changes would be, but if those changes resulted in fewer events, that creates openings on your schedule that the demand will fill.
“I think we're in a position now where we feel like we're doing the right thing for our membership and for our fans because they're clearly responding.”
In mid-February, the PGA TOUR Policy Board announced a change to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, with the tournament utilizing a two-man team format, with 80 teams playing Foursomes for the first and third rounds and Four-balls for the second and final rounds. The goal was to capitalize on the popularity of team play and give golf fans something different.
While traditional 72-hole stroke play will always be the backbone of tournament golf, the quest for new golf fans may lead to more discussion regarding formats, more experiments with non-traditional approaches, more ways to appeal to younger fans looking for something out of the ordinary. It not only involves spectating but also playing. The popularity and demographics of TopGolf has certainly drawn the TOUR’s interest.
Says Monahan: “If formats and format changes are going to help us attract and diversify our audience, then that's something that will always be of interest to us. But I think more importantly, we are very focused on how do we reach and gauge and bring our non‑core golf fan or someone that doesn't yet know they're a golf fan into our sport.
“So you've got to look at formats. You've got to look at the way you present your product through the media. You've got to look at the way our players engage through their own social media platforms. You've really got to look at every facet of what you're doing and be intensely focused on trying to reach that audience, and I think we have.
“I know we all as an organization are giving a lot of thought to perhaps being far more aggressive in marketing to that audience to bring them in, and I think you'll see us be testing, innovating, and perhaps getting our message to audiences in areas that we haven't done in the past.”
“As you know, one of the six tenets of our mission is growing the game. In our heart of hearts, we're surprised when we hear that someone isn't playing the game. So we feel like we have a platform to get people to play the game.
“You look at the fact that there are 6.3 million millennials playing the game, 3 million kids 6 to 17 years old, and there's a larger number that have expressed an interest in playing the game, that's incredibly exciting for us. And if you can bring younger people into your sport, we have the ability to keep them in our sport for 60 to 80 years as participants. No other sport can do that.
“So it behooves us to do everything we possibly can working with our partners in the industry to really be aggressive in celebrating our game and giving people access to our game and thinking about how we're going to do that in a world where consumption patterns have changed.”
In the last few years, the USGA has conducted three symposiums in which golf’s pace of play has been the integral part of the discussion. The most recent one was held a year ago in Pasadena, California. One of the takeaways, according to the USGA, was that a “large number of golfers ages 25-44 have expressed a desire to cut 60 to 90 minutes off their typical round time, creating a market for shorter formats such as three- and six-hole loops.”
At the U.S. Open in Oakmont, pace of play was a topic of discussion during a week that was impacted by poor weather. Whether it’s playing the game or watching it from outside the ropes, pace of play remains a hot-button issue.
Says Monahan: “I think that pace of play is complicated. But if you look back at the data, the data would suggest that three PGA TOUR professionals playing in a round on Thursday and Friday are going to take four hours and 45 minutes. They would suggest that a player has and will continue to take 38 seconds to hit a shot. There are factors outside of I want to hit my shot, how quickly can I hit it, that influence pace of play, whether it's conditioning of the golf course, the sequencing of tee times, the layout of the golf course, the weather.
“What we're trying to do, like every other part of our business, is be as close to and intimate with the data so that in working with everybody, we're doing everything we can to address pace of play. But I would tell you that we feel like we've taken a lot of positive steps in the last couple of years
“You always have to look at the fact that everybody that's living today is trying to do what they did yesterday faster. And so it's no different for our game, and I think that's something we've got to continue to take very seriously. There's no easy solution, though.”
In June, several key TOUR executives and digital officers made a West Coast visit to companies such as Amazon, Google, YouTube, Facebook and Apple. With each visit, the TOUR team gained insight and knowledge as to how the TOUR was viewed through the prism of digital users. The visit to Facebook was especially eye-opening in terms of how much work the TOUR needed to do in order to increase its brand exposure, especially among millennial consumers.
Says Monahan: “The No. 1 takeaway that we all had and something we talked about as we were all coming back is as much video content as we're creating, we probably need to create somewhere in the magnitude of three to five times more as we go forward. We have a significant investment in our digital media across all of our platforms (but) I think you could expect that we're still fairly embryonic in the way we're approaching that in terms of investment level.
“Producing more content, perhaps looking at some of the ways ‑‑ some of the guidelines that we have in place and making certain that we're welcoming content creation where appropriate, and we're starting to use the power of our players and their own networks to help build not only their profiles but the profile of the TOUR and the game. So I think that's a big opportunity.
“We also learned how much they knew about us, which was pretty remarkable, and I think one of the things that we took away was we know a lot about our fans. We know a lot about our spectators. But we really need to have a concerted approach to be as knowledgeable as we possibly can about our fans and their interests and their needs, and I think we're on a really good path there, and that's something that you'll see develop in '17.”
In 2011, the TOUR announced contract extensions with CBS and NBC through 2021. That coincides with the deal the TOUR already had in place with the Golf Channel. While the television rights are secured, certainly the landscape has changed dramatically with the increased use of digital consumption.
In 2015, PGA TOUR LIVE was launched to provide golf fans with online streaming coverage of early-round morning action. The TOUR’s digital platforms are, in the words of one executive, the “tip of the spear” to its future media presence, but television remains its backbone.
Says Monahan: “We're in a great spot, and it's not just domestically, it's internationally. You've got to look at the whole world because that's what we represent. But as the media landscape has changed and become more dynamic, we've taken steps with our media partners to get ahead of that, launching Skratch TV, launching PGA TOUR LIVE for more access via streaming, taking a lot of steps that allow us to test and get ahead of some of the opportunities.
“We're in the middle of long‑term partnerships with NBC, Golf Channel and CBS. Those partnerships are working very well. We're always talking about what we can do to improve and what we can do to best serve the fan, and as we look forward, we're very excited about the conversations we're having, and we know that our product appeals to a valuable audience, a significant audience in terms of size and scale, a global audience, and we've got players that are only going to improve upon that as we go forward. I think it's an extraordinarily exciting time on that front.
“I strongly believe that the most valuable product is going to be our linear product, our television product, because that allows us to reach the masses and for the masses to experience the PGA TOUR and our players playing at the highest level.
“Social media, mobile, all of that augments what we're doing and improves the experience that the fan can have. So whether it's continuing to improve and enhance ShotLink, whether it's allowing players to shoot video earlier in the week from the tournament to create greater awareness of that tournament and help them build their profiles, that ability to be talking all the time is a great opportunity for us to grow our audience and grow interest in our tournaments and our players.
“But it has to augment and support what we're doing from a television standpoint, and we feel like we're doing a really good job on that front. But what we think of that world today, mobile and digital and now 80 percent of our fans are consuming their content via mobile, that will look very different in a year or two from now. Having the ability to adapt and being flexible about content and rights is something that is and will continue to be very important for us and our media partners.”