For most years, off-season has been an uneventful period in between live coverage when fans would patiently await the season’s thaw and celebrate disc golf’s triumphant return. The end of the 2018 was surely the exception to this rule. Players from many manufacturers have made big moves before the new season began. However, there was one shake-up that has dominated the headlines and seemed to force disc golf fans to become actively involved in its outcome. What I’m referring to is the media moves of Steve Dodge and the Disc Golf Pro Tour.
Unless you were hibernating, you became aware on SmashBoxxTV, hosted by Terry Miller and Jonny Van Deurzen, that Steve Dodge had made the decision to forego the Disc Golf Pro Tour’s long-standing media structure, which included live coverage by SmashBoxxTV along with post-produced coverage from JomezPro and Central Coast Disc Golf. Since that SmashBoxxTV broadcast, Steve Dodge’s decision to bring media in-house has come under fire from fans around the sport. To say that critics were outspoken against Steve’s ultimate decision might be an understatement. Fans and critics alike had plenty to say and the two-part media announcements that were to follow did little to halt the animosity that intensified around the situation. Ink Slingers Disc Golf reached out to Steve Dodge to get a better sense of what it was like to be inside the whirlwind that erupted around him during that time and the aftermath that followed.
Disc golf was a game that was introduced to Steve in 1987 at college, and in his words, “I piped my DX XD straight through a thin gap, parked it, got the birdie, and I was hooked.” I wanted to know if he was scared to leave behind Vibram to the start the DGPT and he remarked that, “I would not use the word scared, but it was definitely a leap of faith. Vibram is a great company and had been very good to me. It was a place that I could stay and have a quality career. As many people know, I've always had a desire to help push the pro side of the game forward, hoping to give our best athletes a platform on which they could perform and thrill us. I felt there was a need to create a professional tour, and with the help of several tournament directors, and Miles at Paragon, we put the wheels in motion.”
Ink Slingers: Was the decision to bring media in-house germinating in you awhile? When were you first thinking about the change?
Steve Dodge: Bringing the media in-house has always been a thought. Going into 2019, we knew that the tour certainly needed to monetize the media better in order to remain sustainable. This was one of our reasons for making the change, along with ensuring that we could protect our sponsorship commitments which we’ve done by implementing our 2019 Media Agreement. When we look at supporting the business that is the Pro Tour, the live side was able to support itself with the ads that were shown. On the edited side, where 70% of the viewership currently is, we have not yet been able to recognize any financial upside.
In the first season, Prodigy paid media rights to cover the events. Since then, we have not received any income from the edited video. Going into our fourth season this needed to change, so as we planned for the off season, we worked through all the possibilities and hiring a media team was definitely one of the options.
Ink Slingers: Some have said that the reason you decided to venture out with your own media department is because the media crews that you contracted to help were reaping most of the rewards and most of the exposure with their YouTube channel and subscribers.
Steve Dodge: The media landscape for the sport is shifting significantly and quickly. This makes updating our plans regarding media strategy necessary on a yearly basis. As mentioned, the tour needs to realize value from media and protect sponsor commitments and we prioritized that effort as we planned for 2019. We’re very pleased that media partners of the tour have been able to find success working with us, and us with them, and we truly hope and believe that can and will continue as the tour and the sport continues to grow.
With that said, we feel that media is an avenue that every pro sports league or tour utilizes to make income. We feel that our 2019 plan will utilize media in a way that will help the tour remain sustainable, while continuing to provide opportunities for outside media teams to attend events, partner with the tour, and find their own success as well.
Ink Slingers: Were you ever really close to securing JomezPro for 2019? What were the stumbling blocks? Monetary or something quite different?
Steve Dodge: We were very close. We spent significant amounts of time on several occasions in discussions trying to find a mutually beneficial solution in order to continue working together. We want to respect JomezPro and those negotiations by keeping the details confidential. However, generally, early on we couldn’t find a deal that worked for both parties in regards to continuing coverage in a similar way as they have in the past. Later, we discussed having them cover some events in a less comprehensive fashion, but there were some disagreements on portions of our 2019 Media Agreement. Unfortunately, we were unable to bridge that final gap. However, we anticipate that JomezPro will be coming to Waco. We certainly hear our fans and fans of the sport and understand their disappointment that our partnership isn’t continuing in the same way in 2019. We remain open to working together in other capacities this season and in the future and wish them the best as they continue to produce high quality disc golf coverage.
Ink Slingers: You have had a long history with Terry Miller and SmashBoxx. In the end, he supported your decision to move on, but he seemed genuinely hurt. Do you regret the way things have unfolded? Looking back, would you have disclosed your decision to move in-house a different way if you had the opportunity?
Steve Dodge: I certainly wish I had handled this better, in hindsight. One of my goals in all conversations is to be as open and honest as possible. In this case, I told SmashBoxx that we were moving on before we had planned to make that information public. In retrospect, as a business, I should have waited to share the information with SmashBoxx until it was ready to be announced. Due to our friendship and my concern about their investment in resources, I told Terry and Jonny that the DGPT was moving on too early. I was unable to separate our friendship and our business relationship. This ended up costing Pro Tour in the eyes of the public because the information got out sooner than anticipated. I made myself available to any and all questions as well as any and all criticism of the decision. I did my best to explain the reasons. I did not anticipate that people would not be ready to hear and understand the reasons.
Ink Slingers: For the critics of your media decisions, the issue came down to loyalty. Is the idea of “business loyalty” misguided? Was there ever a way that you could have satisfied all involved?
Steve Dodge: The idea of business loyalty is not misguided and I feel that the tour has been as loyal as we can be with our partners. Good business relationships are critical for success. Loyalty to a business partner is part of these good relationships, as is open and honest communication. Sometimes in order to make the right decision for your business, you have to be OK separating from partners, even if you’ve had success together in the past. While loyalty is a two-way street, sometimes you can be loyal to a fault, and when that happens, it can have a negative effect on your business.
We have done everything we can to uphold our commitments and move the tour forward in a way that is sustainable. I wish we were able to continue working with everyone we’ve partnered with in the past - positively and in perpetuity - but the fact is that we can’t. The tour makes seasonal deals based on what will work in what’s become a fast paced industry. If we tried to make everyone happy we would fail not only in that goal, but as a business. We are focused on making sure we provide value to the players, the TDs, the title sponsor, our partners, and the fans.
Ink Slingers: You have the reputation as a tournament director or tour director that listens to the players. Were you caught off-guard by the quick sides that were taken in the wake of your decision?
Steve Dodge: From the players, not at all. I feel that the Disc Golf Pro Tour has a lot of support from the players. We understand that some players have expressed disappointment, as have some fans, but we have also received tremendous amounts of support and understanding. The sport is growing up. That is a good thing. The players, in ever-growing numbers, are making a living playing professional disc golf. When you do something for a living and you feel like there are significant changes happening, of course there will be interest and opinion.
My email and phone are always on and I answer as often as possible. I will continue to invite every pro player with any concerns to reach out. It feels like there was some significant disinformation during the off-season and this may have played a role in the initial reactions of many players and fans. That said, we’re excited to get the season underway and to put the focus back on the sport and the incredible athletes playing it.
Ink Slingers: What do fans most often misunderstand about you or your decision to change the media plan for 2019?
Steve Dodge: Specifically the fact that we had and continued to have negotiations with media teams to try to find ways to get them involved in 2019 in ways big and small. I understand that we made some missteps in communication about this topic at the end of last fall, so it is easy to see how disc golf fans' misunderstanding came about. We have done our best to stay professional and avoid getting into the details or social media back and forth, so we decided to simply move forward with negotiations and did our best to try to put good offers on the table.
There was also a general misunderstanding as to why many of the media changes are occurring. In 2018, it was clear that more oversight was needed to protect the rights of the title sponsors of the events. These title sponsors are the lifeblood of every event in the Elite Series. Without protecting their rights at these events, this sponsorship for the events would dry up.
Ink Slingers: Will you look back on this moment as the time disc golf grew up as a sport and worked toward a business model?
Steve Dodge: Ever since the PDGA implemented the National Tour, our sport has been growing in professionalism every year. This offseason, like last offseason and next offseason, is just a step along the path. There is a tremendous story to tell and we are excited to join the PDGA and all of the tremendous podcasts, media, and disc golf journalists in telling it. Our sport is growing up and it is awesome to watch.
Ink Slingers: You are an individual who has in the past admitted mistakes. What have you learned from how this off-season unfolded?
Steve Dodge: I have learned that with the right team, anything is possible. We have put together a fantastic team of people. Loving who you work with makes working together and creating bigger and better things easy and fun. This off-season, we have learned to be comfortable in our skin, to be what we are, and to focus on the bigger picture which encompasses the entire sport. We are just one team paddling towards a bright future for our sport and we will paddle as hard as we can.
Ink Slingers: How will the DGPT be a better entity for fans and for the players in 2019 or beyond?
Steve Dodge: Our core focus is creating a platform on which our sport's best athletes can perform, where they can create a career as a pro disc golfer. We will always continue to push that forward. By bringing the main aspects of media in-house, we will be able to develop new and innovative media that disc golf has never seen. All of our media is one team and we are all working to make the live, edited, and additional post-produced content as engaging and thrilling as possible. With the entire media team on one team, we are able to expand the coverage to include a Women’s Live Broadcast as well as to expand to three camera coverage for both Men’s Chase and Women’s Lead cards all season long. We are very excited to get the season started.
With any new venture there are obstacles that can lead to failure. Tours like the DGPT have been tried and failed throughout the years. I asked Steve if there were constant threats that could have derailed the tour in its infancy:
There were tons of things that had to fall into place in order for us to succeed in the first couple years. As we built out our infrastructure we had to be very efficient with our time and our money. There is a long list of people and groups that made the tour succeed. The manufacturers had to buy into the idea to make the tour viable.
Paul Oman, Shasta Criss, Zoe Andyke, and Dustin Keegan drove the trailer from stop to stop, saving us a ton of money if we had hired drivers to haul the trailer. Miles Parkhill at Paragon Disc Golf believed in the project and me enough to give his full support. Matt Krueger of UDisc created UDisc Live with Josh Lichti in less than six months. This was an insane project that he tackled. The UDisc stats allowed the Pro Tour to stand out and gave us a bunch of needed street cred.
In regards to media, Michael Sullivan at Prodigy understood what we were building and paid for the media rights in 2016. This was a huge boost of confidence for us and made us realize that we were on a reasonable path.
Live coverage has been a foundational piece of the Pro Tour from the start. SmashBoxxTV had developed an affordable way to provide live disc golf coverage. Without Terry and Jonny and their creation of SmashBoxxTV, the Pro Tour never could have had live as one of our pillars. Seth Fendley came in as a social media volunteer in 2017. At the time we were floundering in that space and had no traction. Without Seth righting the social media ship, we would have lost out on developing tens of thousands of spectators.
Lastly, the players bought in. They have seen what has been created over the past dozen years at Maple Hill. The events at Maple are all-inclusive premier tournaments. Without the players recognizing that our goal was to build a platform on which they could survive on tour, we never would have gotten traction with the fans. Our goal has never changed. We have always been committed to continuing to grow the platform for the players so that we can all watch disc golf grow to the next level.
Ink Slingers: Is there anything you would like the fans or critics to know?
Steve Dodge: I am very sorry for the significant bad feelings that occurred during this off-season. I personally got this started on the wrong foot and it took amazing efforts from Jeff Spring, Seth Fendley, and Danielle Charlier to navigate the turbulence I created. This lesson has been well learned. Disc golf fans are passionate and wonderful and supportive and involved. I genuinely believe disc golf has the single most loyal fans in the world. The Disc Golf Pro Tour has never lost focus of its goal, to create a stage and bring it to the fans. We look forward to proving that DGPT Media is pretty good and working hard to continue to improve going forward.
Also, for the 2019 season, we created media opportunities that invite all commercial media teams to benefit from the amazing players at all of the Pro Tour events, including the ability to create a feature card on day one and pick two of the players! If you want more information, please email us. It has been an amazing journey so far and we have only just begun.
With the Disc Golf Pro Tour kicking off its season with the Memorial Championship presented by Discraft on February 28th, all eyes will be on the media moves that Steve Dodge has put in place. Whether you agree with the direction the Pro Tour is moving toward or not, the question remains, will these changes be better for the sport? Whether you love him or hate him; it’s evident that he has a clear vision of what he feels disc golf and the DGPT will be in the future. As this season begins to heat up all the media partners that at one time brought you coverage of the DGPT in 2018 are moving forward and finding new media directions. Can disc golf fans so easily find peace in a transformed media landscape? The 2019 Disc Golf Pro Tour season will surely tell the story.