Appearance Fees

Here’s something that surprised me. According to “Tour Confidential” at Golf.com:

CBS Sports published a story this week claiming that Tiger received $1.5 million and Phil $1 million in indirect payments or de facto appearance fees, which are supposed to be against the rules on the PGA Tour. The tournament allegedly skirts the rules by paying the players for “personal service” contracts, which usually involve showing up at a cocktail party or giving a clinic. Critics say these cash giveaways add to the “haves/have nots” division of Tour events. If it’s true, what do we think of all this?

Tour Confidential is a weekly roundup of the thoughts of the resident writers at Golf Magazine and Sports Illustrated on topics that surface during the week.

This week they chimed in on:

  • “Unkind Cuts” – The whys and wherefores of Tiger and Phil having both missed the cut at last week’s Greenbriar Classic
  • “Pay For Play?” – The whispered arrangements that allow tournaments and sponsors to pay appearance fees without actually calling them that
  • “Webb Simpson Melts Down” – On the fast fade by U.S. Open Champion, Webb Simpson, on Sunday’s back nine (four bogeys in five holes)
  • “No-names vs. Big Stars” – On whether it mattered that it was Ted Potter, Jr. and Troy Kelly battling for the win at the end instead of Tiger and Phil

As to the appearance fees, I’m a free market guy, so if Jim Justice, owner of the Greenbriar, wants to take advantage of one of the almost sure things to get players to come to his small part of the world, God bless him.

There’s some discussion that the fees ought to be publicized, but I don’t know what that protects against or what it accomplishes. If a tournament wants to pay an independent contractor for services above and beyond playing in the tournament, that should be his business. And if we drop the charade of “personal services” and it’s essentially a no-show job, that should be their business too.

Some might argue that if big bucks start flowing to big names, more will demand them and that money might be diverted from the purses over time. But isn’t that just capitalism in action? On the other hand, since the stars can’t be at every tournament, there’s not as much risk of that happening.

I suppose it could be argued that the lopsided salaries to the stars in the NFL, NBA and MLB have led to team salary caps and constraints on rookie compensation. But I wonder what would have happened if there hadn’t been all of this interference in the matter from the league offices? Wouldn’t cooler heads have prevailed over time in order to protect the game, protect the goose that laid the golden egg? You’d like to think so.

One of the built in protections of capitalism is — in the absence of interference — the risk of failure. Like the financial meltdown in the United States, that well-intended interference by the government actually increased the risk of failure. Investors were fatuously counting on government guarantees instead of paying greater attention to market risk.

And even if purses did erode over time — European Tour events where they pay appearance fees have always had skimpier purses than the U.S. — there is one cure for all of that. Every time one of my fellow Monday Qualifiers used to complain about the long odds or the lot in life on Monday Qualifiers in general, the comeback from almost any of us became quite routine: “All you have to do is play better.” It may not have been the rejoinder they were seeking, but it always broke the trance…because of the truth of it.

So anyway, I come down on the side of paying the fees. Read the discussion and let me know what you think.

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One Response to Appearance Fees

  1. Lee Garcia says:

    Golf is not a team sport, tour pros are entrepreneurs and to paraphrase a line from the movie “Top Gun”, the prize for missing the cut is in the ladies room. Sam Snead and his generation of professionals were taking appearance fees or gratuities for clinics and playing a few holes with amateurs 50 years ago and 30 ago as seniors well past their competitive playing years. Sponsors pay the athletes who attract more people to their events, more viewers, higher sponsorship fees, higher ad rates for the sponsors, higher broadcast fees for the media, and ultimately bigger purses for the players and then finally, more money than any other sport for charity. End of subject.