This article continues the first part of our Become a Professional Disc Golfer series. If you haven't read the first part yet, you'll find it here.
The Costs of Professionalism
Being a professional disc golfer looks pretty rosy when you see what the payouts are at big tournaments. It’s becoming quite common to see at least the top-5, if not top-10 reach payouts of over, or approaching, $1,000. Let’s not forget the costs that add up during the week.
There is a common phrase in business “it takes money to make money” -- which is typically true. You could have a great product but without spending on marketing, R&D, staff, etc… that product will never see the market and never make you money.
To be a professional disc golfer, you are the product. You are the machine. That machine needs to perform in the right place at the right time in order to show results.
Let’s say you are striving to become a professional disc golfer and you’ve won a recent tournament in the Open Division. The winnings clock in at $1,500. Not bad at all. Let’s not forget about the expenses. If the tournament was just Saturday and Sunday it’s better to arrive on Friday at the latest, but a day of practice never hurts.
We’ll estimate a bit here, but stay with us…
- Travel to and from tournament: $25-100 (depending on the location)
- Lodging: $50-100 (possibly splitting a room or camping, crashing on a couch never hurts for free)
- Food: $50-100
- Entry fee: $100-200
- Taxes: $100 (don’t forget about these!)
That quick list puts us somewhere between $325-600 in expenses. That $1,500 just got a lot smaller.
Check the results of the top tournaments held each week around the world. You’ll likely notice the names at the top of the leaderboard and you’ll see a nice payout next to their name. Then, scroll down a bit further. You’ll see someone maybe around place 20-30 that had a tough weekend. You might know a few of those names too. Now look at their payout. It is sometimes just above the entry fee itself or what your overall expenses are.
Think about it for a moment. You traveled, practiced, ate, and competed. Virtually a full-time job for that week, if not longer. You calculate your expenses, struggle at the tournament, take in your check for your finishing position and realize you maybe walked away with less than $100 for a week's worth of work.
One way to offset those expenses is with sponsorships.
I’d like to thank
Getting a sponsor is a great milestone for any disc golfer. These might be anywhere from a disc or bag sponsor to at some cases a clothing sponsor or even just a local shop showing you support.
Sometimes a sponsor will cover travel or entry fees for tournaments. Others will give you something for using their product. It varies across the board, but every little bit will help.
How do you get a disc golf sponsorship? Admittedly, emailing, calling, or even walking up to a company in person might not be the best approach. The confidence is good, but odds are this won’t work in your favor right away.
Disc golf companies, especially the larger ones, likely have their eye on the next group of disc golfers who they want to approach. Introducing yourself doesn’t hurt, but take that as planting the seed. In order to really catch their eye, you should be in the top divisions in the top tournaments. If a company is going to pay you to promote their product, they want to make sure they reach the most eyes possible with your help.
Don’t forget to start small and work your way up. Having a goal of a Discmania sponsorship is great, but that could be the ultimate goal. Try looking at local disc golf shops or smaller clothing/accessory companies to start. Remember, be patient. Every little bit can help, but that takes time.
It’s easy to see someone like Discmania’s Jussi Meresmaa walking with the gallery watching a group that you’re in compete in the final round of a tournament. Of course, you want to compete well when basically being scouted. Don’t forget about the times when you think nobody's watching. Your reputation is always on the line. Your character is always being scouted. Don’t let one moment when you think no one is watching ruin your chance at a big step forward in your disc golf career.
Having a positive social media presence can go a long way for the professional disc golfers at any level. Nearly every disc manufacturer has players who are social media rated 1020, but they also have 940 rated disc golfers. If you can get both your player rating and social media rating above 1000, your value will increase dramatically.
Discmania team member Eagle McMahon is very active on social media, especially Instagram and YouTube. You can catch him doing live broadcasts all the time. Most of these aren’t on the disc golf course, but while he is traveling to a tournament or hanging between rounds. It’s a way to get to know him and for him to not only promote disc golf, but also himself. And Eagle, in case you’re reading this, yes, we do watch. Ha!
Most importantly, after a bad break or bad tournament, don’t run to social media and complain. Sponsors don’t want to see that and in the end it hurts your image. Think before you speak. Some things don’t need to be discussed in a public forum. Reach out to tournament directors to have a discussion before airing your dirty laundry on Facebook. It will go a long way.
In 2015, Paul McBeth arguably had the great season a disc golfer has ever had. One could argue it will never be topped. With his Grand Slam winning season, including his fourth World Championship and first United States championship, McBeth’s season earnings were through the roof. Here are the PDGA stats.
For 2015, after participating in 26 events, McBeth took home $72,044.70. There is no doubt that the end total is pretty impressive and he earned every penny of it. Don’t forget that the total is pre-tax and before any living/travel expenses.
Learn to win
Getting the experience out on the road playing in big events is going to help you become a better player. While your skills grow and your rating rises, you may miss out on an important piece of the puzzle… learning to win! Make time to play in local events. Use your playing skills you have learned at the big events to your advantage. Go to your local leagues, C- and B-Tiers and get some victories. As you become a better player, it will help you on the big stage. Playing or battling for the lead won’t be such a foreign feeling.
You need the experience of walking to the final three holes with a two shot lead and someone in second place who can’t miss a putt chasing you. You’re in control, but you can’t slip up. Gain the experience at lower levels when one or two bad shots might cost you hundreds in payout.
Amateur tip: For those of you who will never get the chance to tour, don’t be ashamed to
play your rating and work your way through the amateur ranks. Learn to win in whatever division you are playing in, as it will help you when you hit the local pro tournament circuit.
Lend a hand - and learn!
When the next big event in your area that comes around, offer up your caddie services to a top level pro. If you read our first article, you hopefully have been studying film. Now it is time to get a taste of the action second hand, as a caddie. When you find a player to caddie for, study their every move along with the players on their card.
Show up early and be there for their warm up. Be a sponge. See what works for them and
what doesn’t and use that in the future. Make sure you find out the expectations from your pro beforehand. Remember that as a caddie, you are representing that particular player and any comments or misconduct ultimately falls on the player you are caddying for.