2022 Fandom Survey: How Fans See Disc Golf

Fans views on live v. post, the PDGA, DGPT, and more.

Photo: Brodie Smith

This article is part of a series intended to provide insights into disc golf fandom. These insights will come through analyzing a rich data set produced by the first-ever Ultiworld/StatMando fandom survey. If you wish to learn more about the survey and the demographics of the survey respondents, please read this accompanying article. To see which pros we root for and against, please read this article.

In our survey, we asked respondents several questions about their relationship with disc golf and how they view the sport. We cross-referenced these answers with fandom scores in search of noteworthy patterns or deviations.

We asked respondents “Roughly what year did you start following professional disc golf?”

  • This is what one would expect to see – a graph that captures the strong year-to-year growth starting around 2015 catalyzed by Youtube and the emergence of the pro tour, followed by explosive growth from the pandemic, and then back to great, but normal growth once the world opened back up.
  • There is a good chance that the 2022 numbers are not representative of the relative following of professional disc golf as the survey was administered three-quarters of the way through the year and many fans who found disc golf in 2022 may not yet follow the outlets we used to promote the survey, such as Ultiworld Disc Golf and StatMando.

I was also interested in how the year a respondent started following professional disc golf would affect who they root for. These seven players had the widest range of fandom score averages between the different start-year groupings:

  • In order to have a reasonable sample size (100+ respondents), I grouped the respondents by era with respect to when people started following the sport.
  • Seven of the eight athletes with the widest range have been competing for at least a decade or more. On average, the earlier you started following professional disc golf, the more you like these veteran competitors. This makes a lot of sense – older fans will have more familiarity with the more veteran players and perhaps experienced their peak abilities.
  • Korver has the widest range, with nearly a 2-point swing between respondents who started following disc golf in the 80s, 90s, and 00s and fans who just started following pro disc golf. This aligns with one’s expectations, as Korver would have made a big impression on people that followed her during her years of dominance.
  • McBeth’s graph is interesting. His average fandom score starts at 7.3 with the OG’s, peaks with 2009-2015 fans at 8.0, dips back down for 2016-2019 fans to 7.3, and then takes a further dip down to 6.5 for 2021-2022 fans. McBeth’s most dominant stretch on tour was between 2011-2015 (and a resurgence to peak level in 2019). My inclination is that players are likely to see their highest fandom scores from respondents that started following the sport during that player’s peak years of performance.
  • The one player out of seven that really sticks out is Brodie Smith, whose first pro season was in 2020. His graph has the opposite slope of the veterans. The longest-time fans are roughly neutral on him, whereas the newest fans give him an average fandom score that is 1.4 points higher. While we don’t know how many fans Smith brought to disc golf, it is likely a sizeable number, so it makes sense he would score higher with newer fans who started following when he joined.

We asked respondents “Which of the following ways do you follow/participate in disc golf? (Select all that apply)”

  • I was surprised at how popular non-tournament coverage was. There is a lot of variety within that category (e.g., Skins matches, Player vlogs, Jomez challenges, etc.), so perhaps in the 2023 survey we will break those down more.
  • 68.9% of our respondents are current or recently expired PDGA members. I would be interested to know what percentage of all disc golf fans are or were once PDGA members.

A topic of discussion in disc golf media is what will be the future of post-produced tournament coverage. Will the DGPT continue to allow companies such as Jomez Pro, GK Pro, Gatekeeper Media, and CCDG purchase the rights to show next-day coverage? Are fans starting to migrate to live coverage provided by DGN as the quality continues to improve? We asked respondents “Do you prefer watching live or post-produced disc golf?”

  • Live coverage is the preference for the majority of respondents.
  • If we were to look back over the past few years, post-produced would have likely been the preferred option. Did a preference for live coverage become the majority in 2021, or was it in 2022 that the change occurred?
  • If we were to look beyond the sample size of our survey at the broader community of disc golf fans, would live still be preferred? Based on views, perhaps not. Our survey was more likely to be seen and filled out by the most ardent disc golf fans, who are also the same people likely willing to pay for a DGN subscription and make the time to watch live coverage.
  • Fans clearly still want to have both live and post-produced options.

I was interested in how live or post-produced preferences affected how fans view the players. My hypothesis was that players well-known for taking excessive time to throw might score worse with fans who prefer live coverage because post-produced often edits out the wait time. For each player, I calculated the average fandom score for the subset of respondents who preferred live versus post-produced coverage. Here are nine selected players:

  • The fact that Nikko gets higher average fandom scores for fans that prefer live (3.5) to post-produced (2.9) suggests my hypothesis is wrong. Moreover, there was little difference in average fandom score between live and post-fans for Gannon Buhr.
  • Perhaps people who watch live coverage root for Nikko more (or, to be more accurate, on average root against him less) because Nikko is such a different player than everyone else out there. The “What will he do next?” factor can make him very interesting to watch. Post-produced coverage might not capture his intensity/passion as well as live does, and that intensity/passion can be an admirable quality for fans.
  • Koling scoring higher among post-produced fans makes sense given his commentary work for Jomez. Sexton also scored higher with post-production fans (deviation = -0.5).
  • Why did Smith have the largest live preference gap? Perhaps his fans are newer to the sport and skipped over post-produced coverage, straight to live? Smith has said in the past that he prefers live coverage himself, so maybe that has influenced his fans.
  • Conrad had the largest post-produced preference gap. Perhaps this is somehow related to the Holy Shot? However, the Holy Shot is the paragon example that live coverage is much better than post-produced at capturing disc golf’s most important moments. Or maybe Conrad fans don’t like paying for DGN? I ran the numbers to see which player had the biggest average fandom score gap between respondents who said they were or were not DGN subscribers. And what do you know, Conrad also had the largest non-DGN subscriber preference gap of any player! I don’t think this is a coincidence – my inclination is that James Conrad appeals to free spirits that don’t like being saddled with recurring monthly fees.

We asked respondents “What do you think of the Disc Golf Pro Tour (DGPT)?” on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being “I hate it,” 10 being “I love it.” We asked the same question about the PDGA.

  • The DGPT and the PDGA are the two organizations that control professional disc golf through the Elite series and Major series, respectively. Based on the results of our survey, the DGPT is the more popular organization.
  • On average respondents rated the DGPT a 7.65 on our 1 to 10 favorability scale and gave the PDGA a 5.94.
  • The PDGA has a lot of baggage from decades in the sport, whereas the DGPT is relatively new and continues to grow.
  • It would be interesting to see how the respondents’ opinions of these organizations will have changed after the polarizing decision earlier this month to effectively ban transgender women from the FPO division. However, our survey collecting period took place months before the PDGA/DGPT decision was announced.

My thanks to Karl Lamothe and Steve Andrews for their assistance in editing this piece as well as the rest of the StatMando team with data analysis and preparation. Please send your feedback and suggestions to [email protected]. Keep an eye out for our next article, where we will continue exploring how fans see and participate in the sport.

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  1. Jesse Weisz
    Jesse Weisz

    Jesse Weisz is a freelance disc golf writer and conductor of the Fandom Survey. His hobbies include sustaining injuries through ultimate and disc golf. He also runs a non-profit that helps teachers travel at geeo.org. You can reach him at [email protected].

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