VIEW FROM THE TOP
In an exclusive interview with Golf Australia magazine, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan talks about his global vision for the Tour, attracting social media audiences and the importance of a healthy Tiger Woods.
In an exclusive interview with Golf Australia, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monaghan talks about his global vision for the Tour and the importance of a healthy Tiger Woods.
When Jay Monahan took over the role of PGA Tour Commissioner in January of 2017, his predecessor, Tim Finchem, who was in charge of the tour for 22 years, described the IrishAmerican as ‘‘absolutely the right guy” to replace him and “so ready to go that he had to get out of his way”. For sure, if Monahan needed any more pressure in filling the shoes of a man who presided over the Tour’s most prosperous period ever, he got it. The 46-year-old’s path to the top of the American golf scene is intriguing but similar to the ones trod by those before him. Joining the PGA Tour in 2008 from Fenway Sports Group, where he was in control of sales, Monahan’s first move was to become Executive Director of The Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship event. Two years later he took the role of Senior Vice President for Business Development before becoming Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Ocer in March 2013 and then Deputy Commissioner to Finchem the following year.
With an array of skills and expertise gained from working in a number of dierent positions within the PGA Tour, it’s fair to say walking into the Commissioner’s hot seat, Monahan was
well equipped for the challenges he would face. However, now, 15 months in, has the position lived up to the billing?
“There aren’t many sure things in this world, but my answer to this question would be that I’ve loved every aspect of the job,” he told Golf Australia. “Even the biggest challenges – finding solutions for complex problems – has been energising.
“I feel I was well-prepared to handle this position, having served under one of the great commissioners in sports, Tim Finchem. But, ultimately, it’s not about me, it’s about we. We have an outstanding team in place that will help take on the many challenges going forward. I certainly will enjoy that in the future.”
One of the challenges facing Monahan, and indeed, the world of golf at the moment is finding ways to attract new fans to the game from home and, more importantly, abroad as the battle to capture the leisure time of modern sports fans becomes a harder and harder task.
Over the years the PGA Tour has always been viewed as a conservative Tour, whose interests primarily lie in expanding its influence in America, first and foremost, rather than around the world. However, today, the PGA Tour has oces in London, Beijing and Tokyo. It has feeder Tours in China, South America and Canada, and hosts tournaments in Mexico, South Korea, Malaysia and the Dominican Republic. It seems globalisation is something the PGA Tour is now keen to embrace and use to its advantage.
“When you examine what’s going on across the sports landscape – NFL games in London, NBA games in China, MLB teams have opened their seasons in Japan – you might suggest that golf is following suit,” Monahan says. “But golf has always been a global sport, consider the millions of miles flown by Gary Player, the Australian Opens won by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer or Sam Snead’s historic tour across South Africa.
“Those players were a precursor to where we are today, a worldwide membership with 84 members from 25 countries outside the United States, with tournaments broadcast to more than one billion households in 226 countries and territories in 23 languages. With further investment in technology, we will continue to engage our fans throughout the world in new and creative ways.”
As Monahan alludes to, the PGA Tour in recent years has put a lot of its focus into a new digital approach with the aim of alluring more fans around the globe. As well as launching PGA Tour Live, a subscription-based digital platform service, and forming streaming partnerships with Twitter, the Tour has also delved into other ways of enhancing the fan experience.
For example, last year, Tour rules were altered which allowed players to stream videos and post photos during practice rounds and pro-am events on approved social media platforms to help them build more of a rapport with their followers. While, at The Players Championship, on the iconic 17th hole, Virtual Reality, a computer-generated scenario which makes you feel as if you are standing on the course as the action unfolds, was used for the first time ever and deemed a huge success.
As the European Tour and its chief executive, Keith Pelley, have introduced new initiatives in the form of short and exciting tournaments like World Super 6 Perth, GolfSixes and the Shot Clock Masters, it’s clear Monahan and the PGA Tour believe the key to appealing to younger viewers lies in digital innovation rather than re-formatted golf.
“We have embraced the digital world, but I’d suggest it’s to appeal to a wider fan base, not just younger ones,” Monahan said. “The reality of today’s world is hard to dismiss; people of all ages stay connected not only to family and friends through social media and digital platforms, but also to sports, news and other forms of entertainment.
“More and more of our fans are watching and tracking our tournaments via PGA Tour Live, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, they are streaming broadcasts on their phones and so our decision to go all-in is a prudent one. Embracing social media and digital is important for harvesting young fans, yes, but also for providing more options for our core fans.”
Although digital innovation is one way golf is trying to entice new fans, the long-term return of arguably the game’s most influential player, Tiger Woods, would undoubtedly be the biggest fillip golf could ever receive in stimulating interest in the sport.
Indeed, with some broadcasters reporting viewing increases as high as 30 and 40 percent
I FEEL I WAS WELL-PREPARED TO HANDLE THIS POSITION, HAVING SERVED UNDER ONE OF THE GREAT COMMISSIONERS IN SPORTS, TIM FINCHEM. – JAY MONAHAN
when Woods is part of the field, and tournaments trending considerably higher on social media likewise, it’s evident that a resurgence by the 14-time major champion would bring back the fans who left the game, when he fell into decline, and potentially inspire new ones to get themselves acquainted with golf.
Certainly, after so many failed attempts in the past four years, Monahan, for one, is keeping his fingers crossed that 2018 is the year Woods can sustain a successful comeback.
“The fascination with Tiger Woods remains,” Monahan says. “He is a once-in-a-generation talent, so what’s not to love about having him back healthy?
“But I think Zach Johnson said it best when he told reporters in Hawaii that he thinks this young generation of star players deserve the opportunity to experience the thrill of competing against an in-form Tiger Woods.
“Keeping within that framework but extending it to the new generation of golf fans who’ve come on line in the last five years – they, too, are excited about seeing for maybe the first time this incredible athlete in good health. We all know his impact on golf.”
Even with the absence of Woods in recent years, when Monahan took over as Commissioner, he inherited a Tour in great health with assets totaling more than $2 billion, tournament purses worth millions of dollars and players performing in front of huge audiences.
The digital initiatives and globalisation moves of the Tour, which Finchem set in stone and Monahan is now looking to take further, have been implemented to enhance the success of American golf in the past two decades or so and secure its prosperity for the long term.
However, Monahan knows that the future of his Tour will ultimately be determined by the next generation of players, the quality of their game and how they appeal to sports fans around the world. Fortunately, for him, with the likes of Jordan Spieth, 24, Justin Thomas, 24, and now Jon Rahm, 23, breaking through, on the surface, at least, it looks like he may just have the marketable stars he needs.
“In our 2016-17 season, 28 of our tournaments were won by players in their 20s – and 20 were won by those 25 or younger,” concludes Monahan. “As we start the 2018 portion of this season, six of the top 10 in the Ocial World Golf Rankings are PGA Tour members in their 20s; the three you mention, plus Hideki Matsuyama, 24, Rickie Fowler, 29, and Brooks Koepka, 27.
“For a variety of reasons this is great for the vitality of the game. These are young stars who have the ability to connect with fans – they’ve grown up with the social media landscape and understand the dynamics in play – how they are building their own brand and growing the game globally.
“Plus, they play an exciting style of golf that that young fans embrace. The fact that the line of great, young players stretches far deeper than the six names mentioned here indeed gives me reason to love our PGA Tour future.”
Monahan says the PGA Tour will continue to embrace new technology in the digital world.
Monahan says a fit Tiger Woods is welcomed back with open arms.