Moneydisc is a series seeking to answer one important question: What makes professional disc golfers truly valuable to sponsors? The data we examine in this series is not about wins or losses, putting prowess, or any of the stats you'd expect. Instead we're trying to find the players who are both visible and popular enough to help a manufacturer achieve the ultimate goal of any sponsorship—selling equipment. We're particularly interested in players who may be undervalued and could be great pick-ups for sponsors at bargain prices.
In part one, we looked at how current norms of disc golf tournament coverage mean inconsistent players can actually be more valuable than consistent ones.
Check out part one here: Moneydisc, Pt. 1: The Value Of Screen Time
Read on to find out what's in part two.
Moneydisc, Part 2: The Value of Fans
It's only logical to consider the size of a player's fan base when considering their value. The more fans a player has, the more potential customers they offer a sponsor. But there's no exact science to measuring a fan base. Still, we've found three stats that help give us a good approximation of player popularity: 1) number of times favorited on UDisc Live, 2) number of times a player's scorecard was expanded on UDisc Live, and 3) Instagram following.
Here's what each of these mean and why they're important:
1. Favorited When you favorite a player on UDisc Live, they always stick at the top of the Leaderboard screen you see for any event using UDisc Live that they play. It doesn't matter if they're 67th place, a favorited player would still be the first person you see when you check scores. This is an important metric for approximating fan numbers because it’s a good indicator for which players people have an emotional connection with. It shows that people care about these players' results no matter how they’re playing.
2. Expand Totals
Expanding a player means that someone took the time to click on a player to see the details of their scorecard. Player expands trend closer to a player’s performance than favorites because if a player is close to the top of the leaderboard, you’ll likely click on their profile to see how they got there. Regardless, this a valuable metric for seeing the frequency people cared enough about a player's performance to do something extra to investigate it. Additionally, if a player is high in the favorited ranks but low in expands, it points toward a player's inherent popularity.
3. Instagram followers
Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms and likely the most popular for following professional disc golfers. Players' Instagram follower totals are therefore a great gauge of their popularity.
Here are the top 40 players (Open and Open Women combined) in each of these areas:
|35||Kona Star Panis||41,839|
Note: Here is a significant requirement Instagram has for granting a profile "verified" status:
"Notable: Your account must represent a well-known, highly searched for person, brand or entity. We review accounts that are featured in multiple news sources, and we don't consider paid or promotional content as sources for review."
|10||Kona Star Panis||28.40||914|
|12||Paige Shue (née Bjerkaas)||22.60||946|
|29||Ragna Bygde Lewis||6.40||949|
|38||Vanessa Van Dyken||3.70||936|
With the stats explained and presented, the next thing we want to do is figure out which players are disproportionately popular by these metrics and therefore likely to be a valuable endorser for a brand. Though we do discuss some top names, we're particularly interested in players whose levels of popularity and success on the course seem at odds—whether they're more popular than their play would seem to merit or vice versa. Also, we take a look at players who seem to be on the cusp of breaking into the "popular" group based on recent high-quality play and other factors.
Paul McBeth: The Underpaid Millionaire?
This isn’t exactly rocket science, but Paul McBeth is a standout when it comes to all of our metrics. McBeth is favorited on UDisc Live nearly 3,000 more times than the next closest player, Eagle McMahon, and his scorecard details are expanded more than twice that of any other player.
Even during the United States Disc Golf Championship, with McBeth struggling mightily, his scorecard was expanded more than any other player. McBeth is also the only professional player in the world with over 100,000 Instagram followers. Looking back to part one, McBeth also made lead card at a higher clip than any player in Open by a wide margin. Innova, McBeth's former sponsor, had to have known that McBeth was an important player to their brand, but maybe if they had had all of this data before declining to match his offer from Discraft, they would have made a different decision.
It’s not a unique take to say that Paul McBeth is special, but now that we have ever more numbers quantifying his importance, it’s not a stretch to suggest that McBeth is anywhere between one-and-a-half to two times more valuable than the next best disc golfer. Unlike Pierce in Open Women, McBeth doesn’t really have a peer. When you put it in those terms, his million dollar contract almost feels like an underpay.
However, since we don't know the details of his contract, it could be that McBeth took that base only due to the assurance that Discraft would underwrite the costs of producing a unique line of discs based on McBeth's specifications. McBeth's newest Discraft teammate, Paige Pierce, cited the company giving her "trust and involvement" in regards to the way they will use her brand to help their own as a reason for her move.
McBeth likely felt the same way, and though he knew his own worth, he took a base pay lower than that in exchange for a highly personalized line of discs and the huge royalty potential that came with them. Think about it: Every Luna is a Paul McBeth Luna whereas McPro Aviars still had tons of other Aviars to compete with. Again, this is speculation, but in a series about player value, considering what exactly a player could value in a contract is also important.
And one more thing: Speaking of Paige Pierce, we've published a special edition of Moneydisc focused specifically on her value in light of her surprise move to Discraft last week. Read it here: Moneydisc, Special Edition: The Value Of Paige Pierce.
The Other Paige
Though the numbers show people seem to care about Paige Pierce more than any other Open Women's player, Dynamic Discs—Pierce's former sponsor—can take a little bit of solace in knowing that Paige Shue (née Bjerkaas) isn’t too far behind. The 2018 World Champion Shue lags behind the consensus number two Open Women's player in the world, Catrina Allen, when it comes to player expands but has been favorited nearly 200 times more (+19%).
That’s huge for Dynamic Discs because as we said before, expands correlate closely to players' success on the course, but favorite numbers are likely more a sign of how much people care about a player no matter their performance. This difference indicates that people seem to love Paige Shue regardless of how well she plays.
There’s no way to sugarcoat Pierce leaving Dynamic Discs. It’s devastating, and they likely couldn’t match the salary being offered by Discraft or they would have. But seeing stats like these from a homegrown talent like Shue and having her as a literal part of the Dynamic family—Shue's father, Doug Bjerkaas, is Dynamic's Events Coordinator—means they haven't lost all their influential Open Women talent.
Chris Clemons Rising
Check out how often viewers expanded Chris Clemons' scorecard—nearly 50,000 times. That's right around the same number of times as players like Seppo Paju, Gregg Barsby, and Paige Shue/Bjerkaas. But his UDisc favorites and Instagram followers have a slight lag. He's 30th in UDisc favorites and 32nd in Instagram followers.
A lot of those player expands probably came from Clemons’ USDGC performance. After his strong finish at Worlds and A-Tier win up in Maine, Clemons was a sleeper pick to play well at the lefty-friendly Winthrop Gold course, and he did not disappoint, finishing in fourth. He was on a featured card every step of the way, showing up on SpinTV’s lead card and the live coverage of rounds two and three and JomezPro’s chase card coverage in the final round.
What’s interesting is how Clemons completely outpaces fellow lefty Nathan Queen in almost every metric we’re using here (especially player favorited) even though Queen had the same number of rounds on USDGC coverage. That seems to indicate that there’s something about Clemons that people just gravitate towards.
This can go one of two ways: Either Clemons isn’t as popular as you would hope given how well he’s played…or Clemons is about to see a surge in popularity commensurate with how he’s playing, and people just haven’t hit like or subscribe just yet.
A bit of this relies on subjectivity, but it’s not difficult to imagine that Chris Clemons is on the verge of a breakout season in terms of his mainstream popularity. Clemons showed up on a handful of lead cards late in the season, and his long hair and affable personality paired with increased visibility could mean a huge upswing when it comes to his favorited and follower numbers. Clemons' recent three-year extension with his current sponsor Dynamic Discs is another bright spot for the company after losing Pierce.
And who knows? Maybe Clemons got a little boost from our article about him getting trapped in an elevator at Master's Cup, too.
Hello and Welcome to the Power of Commentary
In Part 1 of Moneydisc, we said that showing up on a lead card is more important than necessarily playing well for the entire tournament. Well, there’s one way to get on lead card without even throwing a disc: Being a great commentator.
Commentary has probably had an immense effect on Nate Sexton and Jeremy Koling’s popularity. Both outpace their expand rankings (indicator of high performance) by quite a few places in the favorited and Instagram follower categories (indicators of popularity). If we look back to Part 1, Sexton made lead card in 2019 around the same amount as players like A.J. Risley and Thomas Gilbert, and Koling, unlike any of those three, didn't make lead card enough to be in our top 25 in that stat.
But as you can see in the rankings at the beginning of this article, Gilbert doesn't even appear in our top 40s of any stat, and Risley lags behind both Koling and Sexton in every category. And so, Nate Sexton Firebirds and Jeremy Koling Thunderbirds continue to sell, probably due in large part to the fact that they’re the most popular commentary duo in the game (see UDisc's 2018 series Stream Engine for proof). The golf is important, but Sexton and Koling are proving that you don’t have to be the best golfer in the world to necessarily be among the most popular.
As a manufacturer, finding other players who don’t regularly show up on lead cards but are regulars in the commentary booth, like Nate Perkins, Paul Ulibarri, Lisa Fajkus, Madison Walker, or Hannah McBeth appears to be another way to add value to a brand.
The New Bottom Line
So after all that, which players should manufacturers with limited resources sponsor?
Based on our analysis in Part 1, they should focus on players who have a chance of making lead card even if they won’t necessarily win the tournament. Sponsoring a player with a ceiling of 1070 and a floor of 960 is better than sponsoring a player who consistently shoots in the 1030s. Based on everything discussed in this article, finding charismatic players who are well-liked by the disc golf community and/or players who fans care about regardless of how well they’re doing should also be part of their considerations. This second criteria can be assessed by examining times favorited, expanded numbers, and social media followings.
What do you think? What players would you sponsor given limited resources? Write firstname.lastname@example.org with your opinions and thoughts.
And don't forget to check out the special edition of Moneydisc: "The Value of Paige Pierce." If you don't want to miss any of our best articles, sign up for the Release Point newsletter below.
1. Both Drew Gibson and Kona Star Panis were erroneously omitted from the Instagram follower list in the original publication of this article.