Why the PGA of America is considering playing the 2020 Ryder Cup without fans
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Why the PGA of America is considering playing the 2020 Ryder Cup without fans

The PGA of America is continuing to proceed with the 2020 Ryder Cup being played as scheduled at the end of September at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

However, as the situation changes and evolves throughout the United States, reality is setting in that it’s very likely the biennial team matches cannot be played with the kind of crowds that have become synonymous with one of the best events in golf. In fact, there’s the possibility that the Ryder Cup won’t be able to be played with a crowd whatsoever.

With that reality in their thinking, the PGA of America is considering the possibility of playing the Ryder Cup without fans.

“It’s hard to imagine one without fans,” said PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh on WFAN. “We have begun to talk about whether you could create some virtual fan experience, and we’re going to try to be as creative as we can. It’s [still] to be determined, frankly, whether you could hold it without fans or not.”

In reaction, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy said he would rather see the event postponed a year than played without the Ryder Cup dynamic that even visiting players love.

“I get the financial implications for everyone involved,” McIlroy said during an Instagram Live with TaylorMade on Tuesday. “There’s a lot that goes into putting on the Ryder Cup that people don’t appreciate, but having a Ryder Cup without fans is not a Ryder Cup. I would much rather they delay it until 2021 than play it at Whistling Straits without fans. And that’s from a European going to America, knowing that I’m going to get abuse!”

McIlroy acknowledges that it would be easier for him and his fellow Europeans to compete without American fans to heckle and bother him, but he wants that obstacle.

“Obviously it would be better for the Europeans to play without fans because we wouldn’t have to deal with some of the stuff that you have to put up with, but at the same time it’s not a Ryder Cup,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a great spectacle, there’d be no atmosphere, so if it came to whether they had to choose between not playing the Ryder Cup or playing it without fans, I would say just delay it a year and play it in 2021.”

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Why is a fanless Ryder Cup being considered?

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As McIlroy said, there are tremendous financial implications in this decision. The PGA of America makes a lot of money off the Ryder Cup, from in-person sales like tickets, merchandise and hospitality, as well broadcast rights with NBC Sports Group and Sky Sports, which are both owned by Comcast. Were the event not broadcast at all, the PGA of America would take a tremendous hit from wiping out or delaying by a year that revenue.

The European Tour and PGA in Europe would also not get their cut of the road-game Ryder Cup, which could be devastating for the European Tour, which relies heavily on Ryder Cup revenues to fund their operations. Pushing the Ryder Cup back to odd-numbered years would also push the 2022 Ryder Cup set for Italy to 2023, further delaying revenue that could help sustain the European Tour and prevent it from exploring a merger with the PGA Tour.

The PGA of America is also facing the possibility of issues with presenting the PGA Championship. Already delayed from May, the PGA of America is looking at the possibility of having to move the event from San Francisco to another venue — potentially their owned-and-operated Valhalla club in Kentucky — to get the event played. That event could go without fans, too, further depleting their revenue. However, like with the Ryder Cup, the event has to be played and aired for the PGA of America to collect from its TV partners the full value on the new, 11-year TV deals with ESPN and CBS.

Delaying the Ryder Cup by one year would also have a significant impact on the PGA Tour, which owns and operates the Presidents Cup. Moving the Presidents Cup back by one year in reaction to a moved Ryder Cup would also delay substantial revenue from their biennial competition, including television rights fees and on-site sales.

While it might seem anathema to have a fanless Ryder Cup, the financial implications of not having the Ryder Cup are potentially devastating for everyone involved.


About the author


Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for over a decade, working for NBC Sports, Golf Channel, Yahoo Sports and SB Nation. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He used to be a good golfer.

Ballengee can be reached by email at ryan[at]thegolfnewsnet.com

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