The results are out. All Things Disc Golf, provider of web-based media, today announced the tally from their days long 2014 Throwers Choice Awards website poll. Innova Disc Golf and current world champion Paul McBeth, who is sponsored by Innova, received top honors in three of the four categories. Best new disc went to the Innova Thunderbird. The best men's pro overall was McBeth, as well as best moment of the year for winning the 2014 Pro Worlds Championships. After falling to a six shot deficit, McBeth soared back in the final round to force a sudden death playoff. Catrina Allen took top honors for woman's pro of the year after winning 31 PDGA Tour events this year. But the four awards can't alone describe the drama and excitement from 2014.
High praise is warranted, for the players and manufacturers who made 2014 feel like the best year in disc golf history. Great efforts were made by many, from tournament directors to dedicated sponsors. The fan base grew. Courses were packed on most weekends. Web-based media focusing on the sport, expanded both live and edited coverage. New equipment merchants and manufacturers entered the market. Tournaments, both sanctioned and unsanctioned increased, some overwhelmingly so. New and innovative tournament formats arrived in 2014. And the players. They gave us (pros and fans alike) a fantastic disc golf product to consume. Their skill and professionalism was on display every week.
Disc golf fans played their part in 2014. They continued buying innovative plastic and new molds, PDGA memberships, spread the word of disc golf by giving discs and welcomed new players, and watched to the pro action online in record numbers.
How different might 2015 be?
If I had one wish for next year, it would be for a new player award model. Although this year showed us that many things are working for the sport, and I'm not one to want for change, I do hope for an evolution of player awards. Top pros should compete for more than their entry fees and added cash. Admissions sales and other event revenues might be one source. Tour sponsors and vertically integrated product endorsements might be another. Whatever the next steps, increasing the incentives for success on the course will serve to bring greater excitement to the sport.
How do we get to a new revenue model?
One idea is to look to new spectator-sporting events such as e-sports. I'm not suggesting that we sell #1 foam fingers or expect that fans dress up in a half woman half Jeremy Koling bewitching costume, or by poll select which lightning bolt Page Pierce will use to shock below 1000 rated pros at the next Performance Flight. No. But we should take note of how the fans of e-sports (all players themselves) interact with the action preformed at the highest levels. As documented in many sources, including the August 30, 2014 article in the New York Times, e-sports has made a place for fans to participate while they pay to view the competition. And it's resulting in large payments to top gamers.
Don't we value championship winning disc golf athletes more than finger flicking fantasy freaks?
Filling stadiums to eat nachos and watch the final 9 of the Ledgestone Insurance Open might not fit with the history of disc golf, but we can find ways to increase the economics of the event payouts by including spectators. If entertainment is the product, and I have no doubt we are entertained by top-level play, then we should have enough confidence to begin evolving professional disc golf in 2015.
For more information on All Things Disc Golf or their 2014 Throwers Choice Awards, you can view their website at allthingsdiscgolf.com.