Keith Pelley is every bit the man you’d want to describe the kind of company you’d like to have sponsoring golf at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He is tough-minded, tough-minded. He is respected by those he works with, respected by the players he operates with and respected by those he represents, the way they regard him.
For all the playfulness and the fun that Pelley likes to bring to a lot of the games he’s involved in, with his current golf agency, the International Sports Management Group, what he focuses on day in and day out when he gets up in the morning is the business, making money. Pelley says that’s his life. That’s his job. There’s not another player in the PGA Tour who works his business more seriously than Pelley does.
And so when Pelley, CEO of IMG, and Sony announced that the 25-year-old tournament will continue through 2025 as part of a 10-year $150 million sponsorship, we spoke at length with Pelley about the deal. He said golf needs to spend the money it earns on people who need it the most, and he saw the signing of a legacy sponsor such as Sony as part of his “Mission Impossible” mission to reach sponsors who look at golf and think, “We have to make sure we are in front of younger people.”
It is important to note that while golf does need to spend money, putting too much into prize money leads some sponsors, or lose them altogether. Too much broadcast money can overwhelm some people who don’t understand how TV works. Money could go towards providing more prize money (Pelley said golf needs to have some “mini tournaments” tied to the majors) or providing a better working environment or a more attractive package to carriers. That’s all fine, but somewhere in Pelley’s “Mission Impossible” that could also mean spending the money in the wrong places.
The most important thing he said on the subject of money for golf is that golf needs to earn the money it’s making. At the Sony Open alone this year, the purse was $5.7 million, and the top players in the world can make a run at that, of course. Just as with other sporting events, Pelley mentioned that the problem is many athletes need to chase paychecks just to make ends meet, then they wonder why they don’t want to be a professional player if it isn’t full-time work, then they demand that full-time work.
“Everyone who goes out to play has a dream,” he said. “But if you’re not being paid enough to do it, it’s hard to believe you’re going to do it.”