At the RSM Classic, Davis Love III is the host. As has become tradition, Love met with media before the start of the tournament where he answered questions on a number of topics from what’s the future for the RSM Classic with the new PGA Tour Schedule to media rights issues on the PGA Tour.
Many people do not know that Love has been on the PGA Tour Policy Board five times in his career, most recently with the change of commissioners, from Tim Finchem to Jay Monahan.
Love may not know it all, but when it comes to LIV Golf, and when it comes to operations of the PGA Tour, he knows a lot. These days, he’s as up to speed on the LIV Golf situation as anyone because he’s being sued and, along with other players, has to do a deposition regarding the LIV lawsuit.
“I think now the players really, really do understand what Zach and I, guys who have been on the board understand, is it is run by and for the players,” Love explained. “If we all decide that we want to wear shorts in the hot weather, they can’t stop us if we all get together and say we want to wear shorts in the tournament, not in the practice rounds.”
"“The Tour controls the media rights so that another player doesn’t have the same Monday (to put on an event).” – Davis Love III"
That was an easy example. Then Love cited the initiation of the major medical program which gives players who are injured or ill a path to return to the Tour. According to Love, 90 percent of the changes made during Tim Finchem’s tenure as commissioner were suggestions from PGA Tour players.
So, when it comes to understanding and explaining media rights, Davis Love seemed to be the perfect person to ask.
First of all, according to Love, here’s how it works. Every year, players sign a document that gives the PGA Tour the right to use their likeness in televised tournaments. It’s a blanket agreement between each player and the organization for the entire season.
“We pay dues to the member organization and sign up every year if we play well enough to get invited back,” Davis Love explained about the procedure.
Then he provided an example of why.
"“A player gave an example that they had a Monday made-for-TV event and they had to pay the Tour a million dollars to make 14, and they wanted to make $15 million.”"
While Davis Love didn’t mention Mickelson’s name, it certainly sounds remarkably like one of his complaints.
But rights fees are not unusual. Even Tiger Woods confirmed last May that his organization paid rights fees for the televising of the Hero World Challenge.
“There is a rights fee to having events,” Woods explained at the PGA Championship.
"“We negotiate with the Tour, and whether it’s one-off day events like we have with matches under the lights like I used to do back in the old days, or it’s regular Tour events, each tournament is different. Obviously, there is right fees that have to be paid, and we understand that.”"
Davis Love elaborated on another reason for the rights fees.
"“The Tour controls the media rights so that another player doesn’t have the sameMonday (to put on an event). You have it exclusively to put it on TV. Tiger and Davis and Zach and a bunch of other people don’t have an event opposite your event, and you can make $14 million. That’s the whole point.”"
That’s why PGA Tour players can’t play in professional, televised events in North America the same week as PGA Tour events. The only time that occurs is when the fields are small, or when the tournament is an invitational with a smaller field, as in the case of Corales Puntacana, which is the same week as the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
There are also opposite-field events the week of the Genesis Scottish Open and the British Open to provide playing opportunities for PGA Tour members who may not want to or do not qualify for the overseas tournaments.
Davis Love added that signing the rights fee document was the only way the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour, to name two, can market to various sponsors as well as media outlets like CBS, NBC, and Golf Channel.
"“They can say we have this, and we can sell it to you legally. So, we have to signup every year to give them the right to be able to do that,” Love added."
In other words, it’s just part of everyday business operations for the Tour so it can succeed on behalf of the membership.
Given that information from Love, who has been in-the-know regarding Tour operations for a number of years, Mickelson’s complaint about rights fees falls flat.
“The players don’t have access to their own media,” Mickelson said for a story by John Huggan in Golf Digest. “If the tour wanted to end any threat [from Saudi or anywhere else], they could just hand back the media rights to the players.”
Phil Mickelson has said several times in the last year or two that he wants to control his own media rights. And now he does. Now, he’s almost never seen on television playing golf except in reruns on Golf Channel.
So, he controls his rights, but, apparently, they aren’t worth what he thought they were, or else LIV would have a television deal by now.
Mickelson hit hard at the PGA Tour on that topic, calling the organization that made him a star obnoxiously greedy when it came to media rights.
“They also have access to my shots, access I do not have,” Mickelson said.
All Mickelson has to do is ask the Tour for access to his shots or specific shots and pay for the right for them to be used in some way other than they were when they happened.
Every year that Mickelson played on the PGA Tour, he signed the document that turned over his media rights at golf tournaments to the Tour. He could have politely opted out at the start of any season by not signing.
If he’s looking for his low leap at the Masters to promote some other part of his business, he would have to negotiate a price from Augusta National. Similarly for footage of the PGA Championship at Kiawah.
“When I did ‘The Match’—there have been five of them—the Tour forced me to pay them $1 million each time. For my own media rights. That type of greed is, to me, beyond obnoxious,” Mickelson insisted.
He just doesn’t seem to get it.
If Mickelson ever wants to be a part of the PGA Tour or PGA Tour Champions again, he will have to play the same game that Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods do when it comes to their appearance on television in tournaments. He will have to sign the rights fee waiver.
Keep holding your breath, Phil. You are starting to turn blue at the edges.