Talking with the PDGA: Record growth, new tours, ESPN, and more

For the world of disc golf, it is safe to say 2015 was a smashing success. New tournaments were popping up on a regular basis, multiple highlights landed on SportsCenter’s Top 10, Paul McBeth completed arguably the most successful season a professional has ever had, and we’re already looking forward to 2016.

2016 will have a slightly different feel to it with the addition of the Disc Golf World Tour, Disc Golf Pro Tour, and American Disc Golf Tour all running along side or in parallel to the PDGA. We still have a month and a half in 2015 and the amount of news regarding the 2016 season has been unlike any other year in the past.

We’ve previously heard from the people behind the DGWT, DGPT, and ADGT. We wanted to make sure we didn’t leave the PDGA out of this discussion. With a very exciting year behind us and many new elements awaiting us in 2016 we talked with PDGA Executive Director Brian Graham and PDGA Media Manager Matt Gregoire. We discuss the growth in 2015, the new tours, ESPN, and the plans the PDGA has in place for 2016.

With the 2015 season starting to come to a close, it’s safe to say we can look back and call this past year a successful campaign. What are your thoughts on the overall state of disc golf after this year?

Gregoire: “2015…wow…what a year. I have only been with the PDGA officially since January of 2014 (voluntarily ran our social media accounts since the summer of 2011) but I can say without any hesitation that this was an incredible year for the sport. Disc golf is growing at a nearly overwhelming pace, as is the membership of the PDGA and the number of events we sanction. We reached new heights in 2015 as far as media exposure and that will only continue to grow in the years to come. We started the year off by getting a clip from the first National Tour event of the year on SportsCenter’s Top 10, and everything just sort of erupted into a media frenzy in the months that followed. The overall state of disc golf right now is as good if not better than it ever has been.”

We believe we’ve heard the PDGA had another highly successful year in terms of overall active members and new members, correct?

Gregoire: “Yes, another record year in fact. And to add to that, we’ve also set new records for total number of sanctioned events in a single year as well. At the end of 2014 we had 24,443 active PDGA members and had sanctioned a total of 2,120 events. As of today, we have 29,902 active members (22.3% increase) and have already sanctioned 2,561 events (20.8% increase).”

The talk of the sport in the last few weeks have been the addition of these new tours. Along with the PDGA National Tour, 2016 will see the Disc Golf World Tour, Disc Golf Pro Tour, and American Disc Golf Tour. We’ll talk about the last one in that group in a moment, but let’s talk about the DGWT and DGPT first. These two companies will bring a tour that runs virtually parallel to the PDGA National Tour. They are independent of the PDGA, yet they’ll operate with the PDGA rule book in effect and use the PDGA standards. What is your opinion on these new additions to the disc golf community?

Graham: “The DGWT and the DGPT are both series of existing PDGA sanctioned events, albeit with unique marketing and promotional initiatives. As such, the PDGA supports these efforts to move our sport forward and we will continue to support them just as we do any of the other 2,600 events we sanction each year.”

For the America Disc Golf Tour, while they currently only have two events planned, the larger difference they bring to the table is they are operating as competitor to the PDGA. They are creating their own technical standards and run their own membership, among other things. From the PDGA’s view, what are your thoughts on this new venture?

Graham: “The ADGT is a newly announced private for-profit business, while the PDGA is a not-for-profit membership association owned and governed by its 30,000 active members. PDGA members have invested 40 years of hard work into their association and the development of our sport to get it to the unprecedented levels of success that we enjoy today. As our sport becomes more and more popular, it is expected that others will want to try to cash in on our success. That being said, the PDGA wishes luck to any organizations or individuals attempting to promote the sport of disc golf.”

The other main item from the ADGT is the addition of an ESPN broadcast. Let’s first ask, has the PDGA previously held discussions with ESPN with the goal of having a disc golf event broadcast on the ESPN networks?

Graham: “Despite claims of exclusivity out there, the reality is that ESPN will sell television time to nearly any organization or sport out there with a big enough check book. I believe the ADGT broadcast is planned to be another live streaming effort on ESPN 3, which is their branded live streaming portal.”

Did the people behind the ADGT, or any other the other tours, previously approach the PDGA in hopes of a partnership?

Graham: “The PDGA had in depth discussions with both Jussi Meresmaa (DGWT) and Steven Dodge (DGPT) regarding their respective tours and we fully support their efforts to help move our sport forward.”

In the ADGT announcement, they state part of the reason for why they were able to secure an ESPN broadcast instead of the PDGA is due to the speed at which the PDGA operates. Do you feel the PDGA operates too slowly to move relationships like this forward?

Graham: “The PDGA could very easily live stream our events on ESPN3 but the costs involved do not guarantee you any larger of an audience then we are already getting using other more cost effective live streaming portals. With ESPN3, you are paying for the name.”

It also appears as if ESPN pushed for some of the changes to the technical standards with one of the main goals is to allow the disc to be more visible to a camera. Are there some changes you’d like to see made to the PDGA technical standards or do you feel they are strong enough for a tv broadcast?

Graham: “PDGA technical standards were developed and refined over 40 years and they are in part responsible for fairness in competition and creating an even playing field in terms of equipment. Can you imagine what disc golf would be like if there was no standard target dimensions or you could throw any object? All sports have equipment standards and we feel ours are in the best interest of the sport and those who play it.”

Regardless of who is operating the tours, 2016 is shaping up to be one of the most important in the history of the sport. Do you view this growth as nothing but a positive thing for the sport or do you have concerns about doing too much too quickly?

Graham: “Disc Golf has exploded in recent years and we do not see any end in sight. It will be important moving forward that the PDGA and its members are united in leading the charge in terms of sustainability of our sport, so that this exponential growth continues. We are quickly becoming more and more mainstream and with that will come new challenges that will need to be addressed.”

The PDGA recently announced some changes for the Junior divisions and some tweaks to the registration/withdrawal rules for 2016 along with a new Game Development Team. Tell us about this new committee.

Gregoire: “The Game Development Team is a new PDGA committee spearheaded by Disc Golf Hall of Famer and PDGA Ratings wizard Chuck Kennedy. There have been plenty of X-Tier events over the years that have tested out new rules, formats, equipment, etc., but there has never been a committee assigned to systematically tracking the information that comes out of said events. The committee includes some of the greatest minds in disc golf, plus touring pros like Nate Doss and Sarah Hokom. They’ll be working together with Tournament Directors from around the world with the hopes of putting together some real data that could eventually change the game for the better.”

What are you looking forward to the most in 2016?

Gregoire: “The chaos! 2016 is going to be out of control, in an awesome way. Look at the Glass Blown Open for example. The A-Tier event is already sold out, capped at 892 players with another 70+ on the waiting list, not to mention the 117 that have already registered for the National Tour event. Sold out in November with nearly 900 registered players, for a tournament in April, and I’m not even surprised anymore. That’s how big this sport has become over the last few years.”

“In 2016 we have the PDGA National Tour, Disc Golf World Tour, Disc Golf Pro Tour, and now the American Disc Golf Tour as well? More than anything else, I look forward to seeing how it all plays out. It’s all so new, and to have it all happening in the same year…it will be interesting to say the least.”

“Lastly, as the PDGA Media Manager, I for one look forward to seeing all the new content that is created and shared about disc golf in the near future. We’re all in this together, even if it doesn’t feel that way sometimes. Having bigger and better disc golf events means there will be more disc golf videos, pictures, podcasts, persiscopes, tweets, posts, snaps…pick your poison. All of it means more exposure for the sport we love, and with exposure comes growth.”

Thanks to both Graham and Gregoire for the insight and comments on all the news we’ve seen over the last few weeks. We’re right there with them too when it comes to our excitement for 2016. It certainly will be unlike anything we’ve seen before and you know All Things Disc Golf will be right there to cover it all.

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