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Why the Face of Pro Golf May Never Be the Same Again

By: | Tue 14 Apr 2020 | Comments

Do you remember, back in the day, when you simply referred to the Scottish Open? Or the European Open? Now it’s the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open and the Porsche European Open. And quite right too.

The companies whose names are associated with these tournaments pump a fortune into them and work closely with the European Tour to ensure that everybody enjoys the experience. And, let’s face it, if you attend the European Open you are not going to object to having to look at a few Porsches in the tented village, are you?

It is assumed that life on the European Tour will simply resume as normal when the all-clear is given. The truth is that is highly unlikely to happen. The majors are just about the only tournaments that do not depend on title sponsors - it is one of the things that makes them so special. They do not have to dance to the tune of TV companies and advertisers.

But, and it is a very big but, routine tour events are very different animals indeed. Sponsors are the lifeblood of professional golf and it couldn’t survive without them. Globally, they pump tens of millions of pounds into the sport. Without them there would be no Race to Dubai and no FedEx Cup. There would be no Rolex Series events. There would be no BMW PGA Championship. You get the picture.

Like the businesses we work for, coronavirus will have had a devastating impact on almost all of these sponsors. BMW, for instance, have stopped all vehicle production. As have Porsche. And even if it were to restart tomorrow, what will happen to their sales?  How many people will be looking to buy a new car?

Just take a brief look at the European and PGA Tour schedules - Alfred Dunhill, HSBC, Hero, Qatar Bank, Volvo, Betfred, Honda, AT&T, Porsche, Omega, Safeway, Genesis, Mastercard, Zurich. On and on goes the list.

It would be unfair to say that the tours and their players have taken these sponsors and their money for granted because they have quite clearly worked hard to get them on board. When making a victory speech, the winner is always careful to ensure that main sponsor gets a mention. But everybody thought the golden days would go on forever. And if one sponsor drops out, you just go out and find another one.

And, in the past, these businesses have clearly felt that there has been value in been associated with the sport and the audience it attracts. Most golfers are viewed as having disposable income and are perfect targets for clever sponsors.

But when this is all over the landscape is going to look very different.

In the USA, millions of people have already lost their jobs since the crisis began - and many of them will work for some of the companies listed above. Commercially-minded chief executives - and there is no other kind - will already be looking long and hard at how they spend their money. It is a given that we are now in the grip of what is going to be a major economic recession, and it is going to take many years before we emerge through the other side.

First and foremost will be the welfare of their businesses. What impact will the recession have on their costs, which are likely to soar? Do transport links still exist? Can the export market be rebuilt? Next will be their employees. How many will these companies be able to retain? How many will they be able to ret-employ? Next on their list will be their customers. How do they win them back? How do they keep them? How do they give them value for money if inflation begins to soar, as it surely will?

So where will golf figure in their list of priorities post Covid-19? Pretty low down, that’s for sure.

The chances are that many tournaments will be scrapped - or go ahead with vastly reduced prize money.

There is a domino effect. The PGA Tour raises millions for charity, with each tournament focusing on a specific good cause. No tournament means no charity cash.

For professional golf we could be on the verge of a doomsday scenario, and for all those who depend upon it the consequences could be dire indeed. Let’s hope not.

Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography

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