Tiger Woods changed the landscape for promotional fees around the world, capitalism took it from there

Tiger Woods changed the landscape for promotional fees around the world, capitalism took it from there

Euro Tour

Tiger Woods changed the landscape for promotional fees around the world, capitalism took it from there

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Tiger Woods arguably made appearance money in European Tour events acceptable after years of bickering over the issue. He also drove up the asking price for those lucky enough to demand cash incentives.

Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson likely will receive a minimum of $1.5 million to play in Saudi Arabia at the end of January. There was a time when that statement would have caused many an arched eyebrow. Now the only part of that statement that merits criticism is that they are playing in a country with scant regard for human rights.

Koepka and Johnson each were paid a reported $1.5 million to appear in the previous Saudi International. That was on top of $1 million per man to play in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship two weeks prior.

It’s “reported” and “reportedly” because this sort of information isn’t shared – it comes from reliable sources close to the European Tour. Getting players, managers, sponsors or tour officials to talk on the record about appearance money is as easy as scratching your bottom with your big toe. (If anyone at Hambric Sports, which manages both players, wants to tell me different figures, then go for it.)

They weren’t the only players receiving financial incentives in Saudi Arabia last year. Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Bryson DeChambeau got paid, too.


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There was a time when financial inducements to lure players resulted in a slew of negative headlines about greedy professionals. It doesn’t seem too long ago that Seve Ballesteros went to war with the European Tour because he couldn’t be paid appearance money while top American stars such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and others cashed in.

Appearance money was banned for European Tour members. Of course, Palmer et al were not European Tour members and not subject to the same rules as Ballesteros.

The Spaniard eventually got his way. The European Tour changed the rules years ago by allowing players to receive fees to help sponsors promote tournaments. Appearance fees still were not allowed, but promotional fees were. Strictly speaking, that’s still the case. So when you see a group of players, say, sitting on camels for a photo op before the Dubai Desert Classic, those are the guys getting appearance … ahem … promotional fees.

Appearance fees still are taboo on the PGA Tour, but PGA Tour players can collect such promotional fees when traveling abroad on other tours.

Ballesteros soon cashed in wherever he could. So did others. Such fees often were larger than the actual prize money. That shouldn’t sound surprising, and it still happens. Not just in Europe, but other tours around the world.

Justin Rose appeared in the 2018 BNI Indonesian Masters on the Asian Tour for a reported $1.5 million, twice the $750,000 prize fund. (Note to Rose’s manager, Mark Steinberg: Please feel free to join Hambric Sports and enlighten me if the figure isn’t accurate.)

There was a time when appearance money divided opinion among those who saw it as acceptable and others who said it meant less money for the tournament purse.

As with so many other aspects of golf, Woods probably settled that argument back in 2000 when he played in the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open TPC of Europe in Hamburg, Germany. Woods played for a reported $1 million fee, probably the first seven-figure appearance fee in golf history.

It was a huge talking point that week, even if Woods or Steinberg weren’t talking about it. Although Woods received more than twice Lee Westwood’s winner’s check of €450,000, there were no howls from players.

“Look what he’s brought to this tournament,” Paul McGinley said at the time. “There are more spectators, more media interest, more prize money, more world ranking points. Everyone benefits. I think he’s worth every penny.”

McGinley was right, and nothing has changed. When Woods plays in a tournament – any tournament – he is the tournament. Interest soars.

Oh, and Woods’ $1 million fee is pretty much the going rate for a marquee name these days. Call it the Tiger trickle-down effect, with players such as Koepka, Johnson and others cashing in and sponsors, particularly in the Middle East, competing for the names. It enables the stars to play sponsors against each other to see who has the biggest wallet.

And why not? After all, the names know that interest goes up across the board, for fans and media alike, when they tee it up in events. Sponsors get more bang for their bucks.

Fans don’t turn out to watch journeymen pros. They go to see “names.” Poulter emphasized this a few years ago when he said, “You don’t sell tournaments on the back of the player ranked 100th on the money list – you sell tournaments on the back of star players.”

There’s obviously a flip side. Other tournaments suffer because the star names choose to play where the cash is.

And would most of us be any different? Probably not. Although hopefully we wouldn’t take money from regimes like Saudi Arabia that murder dissenting voices like respected journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Face it: If your boss said, “Here’s your annual salary for a 32-week year,” then added, “and if you work these extra weeks we’ll pay you, say, $15,000 per week,” most of us would say yes in a heartbeat.

It’s called capitalism. It’s rife in golf. Always has been. Always will be. Tiger just made it more acceptable. Gwk

This story originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Golfweek. Click here to subscribe to our magazine.

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