Tuesday afternoon we got word of yet another disc golf tour set to begin in 2016. Following the announcements of the Disc Golf World Tour and Disc Golf Pro Tour, the American Disc Golf Tour made their splash yesterday with one additional feature that many didn’t expect: an ESPN broadcast.
With Discmania’s Jussi Meresmaa behind the DGWT and Vibram’s Steve Dodge running the DGPT, the ADGT is being run by Chris Kilgus, one of the co-owners of Salient Discs. Kilgus tells us he’s been working with ESPN since 2014 to make this happen and contracts were signed just a few months ago.
The ADGT currently plans two events with the American Open being held May 13-15 at Cobblestone Park Golf Club in Blythewood, South Carolina. This invite only event will have a live broadcast on the ESPN networks on Sunday during the final round.
Along with the event, the ADGT has a set of technical standards that are different than the PDGA’s as they will operate completely independent of the PDGA.
To get more details on the ADGT as a whole, the ESPN agreement, and the new rules in place we talked with Kilgus to get answers to the many questions rolling around.
With the recent announcements of the Disc Golf World Tour and Disc Golf Pro Tour, your news of the American Disc Golf Tour has caught many by surprise. How long have you been working on the idea of the ADGT?
“The idea started in 2013 but the first official contact began in June 2014 and since that time we have been working hard to execute a contract that worked for all parties involved. Finally in early Sep 2015 we received the counter signed contract.”
While we have plenty of questions about the tour itself, we have to jump right to the other main announcement. You have a broadcast agreement with ESPN for your marquee event to be held in May. People have wanted to see disc golf on ESPN for a while. Talk about how this came together.
“We received first contact in 2014 due to a mutual friend that happened to work for ESPN. Since that time discussions developed on the requirements for a live broadcast. Once we were able to get the emerging sports division to understand the idea we came to a agreement.”
Will the broadcast be live or taped? What about the platform… will it be live on ESPN2 or ESPN3 (streaming only)?
“The broadcast will be 2 hours of live action on May 15, 2016. ESPN 3/ESPN U will carry the event as well as any Watch ESPN apps. ESPN 2 may be used for re-broadcast.”
One of the other hot topics when it comes to broadcasting disc golf on tv or online is the broadcasters. Who will be the lead broadcaster for this broadcast? Do you have any analysts lined up?
“ESPN has strict requirements when it comes to production crews and Satellite signals which require the production staff to be approved by ESPN networks. We are currently searching for a commentator/analyst. A few top choices are on our list but due to our NDA we have been unable to actively pursue those on our list.”
On your website you mention how ESPN has hesitated in the past to broadcast disc golf due to the lack of clear satellite signals on the wooded courses and lack of large capital investments among other things. Since they are on board, does this imply the events will be held on more wide open courses? What about the large investments? Have you lined up any external sponsors?
“The main issues for live broadcast are having a clear signal back to Bristol, CT. Many courses do not have the ability to park a Satellite Truck and Production Van with clear view into the open air which has been a major obstacle.”
“The courses we look for are open courses with panoramic views allowing ease of following a disc thru the air.”
“The investment into production is high, without going into detail.”
“We have some external sponsors and affiliates. We have a few posted on the website but are in talks to announce some larger sponsors in the near future.”
You also note the lack of true technical standards including a standard basket. You are operating 100% independent of the PDGA who have set technical standards for years when it comes to baskets and discs. Why break apart from the PDGA?
“The break from the PDGA is strictly due to the speed at which they make decisions. As a private entity we can make decisions quickly which is required when working with a company like ESPN.”
There is a list of technical standards on your website that vary slightly from the PDGA’s standards. What are the changes and why the differences?
“The differences were based on talks with players, ADGT officials as well as ESPN. The main changes include changes in the the rim width allowing slightly larger rim discs as well as allowing discs to now have a open space in the middle of the disc. For live disc golf events to be attractive to new viewers and players we have to have some disc flights that are easily caught by camera. Making the specs more generous can potentially increase the flight time of a disc on open drives, invariably making discs fly father and easily tracked on camera.”
You also state that while previously approved discs by the “professional flying disc association” will be grandfathered in, any new discs will also need to be approved by the ADGT. Have you had talks with disc manufactures on this new rule?
“We have not had any talks with any other manufacturers. Due to the delicacy of ESPN we could not risk leaking any information. With that said as co-owner of Salient Discs I am well aware of the impact of changing disc specs and believe these new specs will allow some very interesting disc golf discs.”
This also implies that there will be some discs approved for the ADGT and NOT the PDGA. Is that divide a good thing for the sport overall?
“I would like to mention we are not interested in dividing the sport. We feel that any disc previously approved by other sanctioning bodies is good to go in the ADGT. Moving forward if manufacturers determine they would like to introduce discs that do not fit into PDGA specs then we invite this alternative.”
You are the owner of Salient Discs as well. What is Salient Discs’ involvement with the ADGT? Is it operating independently or is this mainly a promotional tool for Salient Discs?
“Yes, I am co-owner of Salient Discs. ADGT is operating as a separate division from Salient. The original agreement with ESPN had to have support of a disc golf entity which is why Salient is part of the equation.”
“Promotion of Salient is not the purpose of the ADGT. As you can tell from the website AmericanDiscGolfTour.com we purposely made the effort to keep the tour as neutral as possible. We welcome all disc manufacturers, disc golf businesses to help support this great new adventure.”
Let’s shift gears to the tour itself. The DGWT and DGPT have five or six events on their roster while ADGT is advertising only two pro events and two amateur events for 2016. To be honest, that isn’t much of a “tour” when matched up against other events. Are there plans to grow this to a full nationwide tour?
“We do have plans to grow the tour which is why we offer licensing of regional ADGT events. Anyone can fill out our online application and apply to host a local event.”
“As for Major events we will only have two Pro events this year. The main reason is production for ESPN takes months of planning, scouting, and paperwork. Also, with the high cost of production we wanted to make the tour was viable as possible.”
One part of the ADGT that is different is another need for a membership. If you want to play in these events, your PDGA membership isn’t valid, correct? Pro, Amateur, and Junior memberships range from $80-20 depending on the level. All include some sort of membership package too.
“Yes, you are correct. All members receive very generous membership packs. As an aside of a player is invited and signs up for the American Open that player receives gratis membership to the ADGT.”
Half of the membership fee goes straight to the payout of the event. We’ve seen other tournaments all the time use fundraiser discs and other events to raise money toward the payout. What will the amateur discs be in their membership package?
“Each player will receive a midrange/putter and a driver that has been donated by Salient Discs.”
What about the shoes and backpack for the pros?
“These items will also be donated by Salient.”
Will these all be Salient Discs products?
“We have had a number of emails asking to sponsor the tour and we plan to offer more than just Salient branded products.”
Is there a requirement to use these items in your event?
“Not at all. The ADGT is separate from Salient and again we invite the disc golf community to support this new adventure. This is our shot at mainstream and we need to all come together and build a true foundation.”
You are also using an invite system for the American Open. How were these pros selected and what if a professional has an interest in participating but aren’t invited?
“Invites were based on top performing pros with a proven track record. Only invited players will be allowed to register. After 45 days we will open up any spots to the next list of players. If you are not on the list of invites we will be auction off 4 sponsor exemptions. We also have 5 spots available for qualifying the Monday before the event. We also have a number of fundraiser disc raffles for a spot in the American Open and VIP package.”
On the amateur side, you are introducing a handicap system. How will this work and how is this different than the PDGA ratings system?
“Handicap is based on course length and similar got the USGA. We will only use handicaps for division placement and not calculating scores.”
What are the entry fees for the American Open and what is the payout like?
“$299 entry fee, the payout will be set closer to the event but we expect first place to be the largest ever in history.”
You state on your website disc golf has lacked “a group of like minded individuals with progressive thoughts, corporate sponsors, and the DRIVE to bring professional disc golf events to millions of live viewers.” We can think of quite a few people who do have the drive and are taking steps to bring professional disc golf events to people around the world. Why do you disagree with that statement and why are you guys the ones to make it happen?
“We do not mean for this to be a contentious statement but disc golf could have been on ESPN networks years ago. The difference is we had the persistence to follow thru for months upon months until we were heard. Fast forward and here we are.”
“Just to be clear Jussi Meresmaa and Steve Dodge are both great ambassadors. They are pioneers and I hope we can all work together soon.”
Let’s talk about the “millions of people” in that statement too. Where are you getting the “millions” from, especially when you don’t have any previous events to base this on? Is it just ESPN subscribers?
“Exactly. Disc golf is still in its infancy and believing that approaching outside sponsors with ‘thousands’ won’t even get you in the door.”
Finally, after all of this, many will still believe this is too good to be true. Beyond “wait and see” what do you have to say to those folks?
“Come see us in May!”
How can people keep up with the latest news about the ADGT?
Is there anything else you want to include?
“We just ask that everyone keep an open mind and help support the event. We have began this adventure in order to showcase the great players and introduce new players to the sport. Negativity before the event starts will only make the transition into main stream more difficult.”
Thanks to Kilgus for the information and quick turn around.
The American Open lands the weekend between the PDGA National Tour stops for the Kansas City Wide Open and and “Steady” Ed Memorial Masters Cup in California. It also joins the three A-Tier events being held around the country as well. A busy schedule is never a bad thing and the addition of the ESPN broadcast certainly adds another factor the other tournaments aren’t able to provide.
We are working with Kilgus to help setup an interview with ESPN to talk with them in even greater detail about the American Disc Golf Tour. Stay tuned to ATDG for more information.