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 ROBERT GREEN
 And Another Thing


Sporting values in old money

I was reading in the Sunday Times the other week about the British Olympic Association brokering a deal whereby Team GB medallists from this past summer’s Olympic Games would be able to capitalize on their success by earning appearance fees from sponsors. The tariff was explained as being £6,000 a time for gold-medal winners and £3,000 a go for silver and bronze. (Star athletes like Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis are obviously able to negotiate better deals for themselves and, given the amounts washing around in tennis and cycling, Andy Murray and Bradley Wiggins would probably regard that as loose change.)

Goodness knows how many millions Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods actually pocketed for playing that exhibition match in China in November, though six grand wouldn’t have covered the caddie tips. But the money in golf wasn’t always so far removed from the appearance fees our Olympians might now expect to pick up – at least, not so different if you ignore the impact of inflation and the astonishingly exponential boom in the commercial appeal of professional sport.

I recently saw an old interview conducted with the late Seve Ballesteros. It was broadcast on ITV in early April 1981, just before Seve would attempt to defend his Masters title at Augusta. The interviewer was Brian Moore. Among their conversations was this exchange regarding company days.

BM “I’m told that for corporation days you can earn as much as £7,500, or for a golf clinic. Is that an exaggeration?”
SB “Who told you that?”
BM “It was a newspaper cutting.”
SB “A newspaper…yeah sometimes, depends how much I have to do. Sometimes I have to give a clinic for one hour and play 18 holes and go to the dinner and that would be from 10[am] to 11[pm]. And for those it’s…yeah, they are right I think.”
BM “£7,500, for a day?”
SB “Yeah.”
BM “That’s a good day’s pay.”
SB “Yeah but it’s only four days a year. I like to play tournaments, I don’t like to give too many exhibitions.”

At least Seve didn’t say: “You can’t believe everything you read in the press.”

For winning the Masters that year, Tom Watson collected $60,000. Last April, Bubba Watson picked up $1,440,000, so it’s not only off-course earnings that have dramatically increased. At the time of that interview, Ballesteros and Watson were the two best golfers in the game (the world rankings were not launched until 1986) and Seve was the most marketable personality in the sport. The interview took place in the early part of the season that was to be marked on this side of the Atlantic by a furious stand-off between Ballesteros and the European Tour about the payment of appearance money to him for playing in official tour events, a disagreement that eventually led to Seve being omitted from that year’s Ryder Cup match at Walton Heath. Halcyon days indeed…

…OK, WELL PERHAPS THEY WEREN’T THAT, BUT THE European Tour these days isn’t simply faced with the problem of just one golfer, admittedly an enormously talented and charismatic one, deciding that given the way things are, he’ll go and ply his trade elsewhere. As it stands, it is likely that of the last European Ryder Cup team, only Paul Lawrie and Francesco Molinari will play many tournaments in Europe in 2013, with the other 10 fulfilling their commitments to retain European Tour membership by playing in the major championships (three of which are in the United States), the World Golf Championships (ditto), enjoying the lucrative Middle East events, probably playing the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and…er, that’s about it.

Luke Donald, one of those 10, has spoken of a “talent drain” from the European Tour. George O’Grady, the Tour’s chief executive, told The Guardian: “I know what Luke said, [that we] should be worried by a talent drain. I don’t use the word ‘worried’ but I am concerned.”

Call me pedantic, but they sound more like synonyms than antonyms. O’Grady also said, even post such a euphoric Ryder Cup for Europe: “I wouldn’t say the phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting to sponsor tournaments.”

Of course, that’s the economic reality right now. As Chubby Chandler of ISM put it: “For £3 million, you could have a European Tour event or the shirt sponsorship of [a good team in the] Premier League. What’s going to get you more coverage?” Indeed.

FINALLY, ANOTHER RYDER CUP REFERENCE. BEFORE September’s match at Medinah, not one of the 2012 American team had a winning Ryder Cup record. After it, both Dustin and Zach Johnson do, as does Matt Kuchar. Oh, and also Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner, who were rookies. In contrast, eight of the European team previously had winning records. In Chicago, Rory McIlroy gained that distinction while Graeme McDowell lost it. Bloody statistics, hey? Happy Christmas.

January 2013

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 






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