Innovating, shattering current stigmas and opening golf up to a new audience
By Simon Lamb in conversation with Gregg Turner
Rory McIlroy is playing Justin Rose in a six-hole head-to-head, under floodlights in front of a sell-out crowd, speakers blasting music before and after shots, the caddies have POV cameras and the players are mic’d up throughout. Does this sound like a golf match you’d like to watch? From 2017 onwards, you’ll be able to. This is one of a number of ways in which the European Tour is innovating, shattering current stigmas and opening golf up to a new audience. CSM is proud to be a consultant for this project, helping develop this future strategy that will deliver a changing European Tour (ET).
In recent years, an increasing number of the top European players have opted to head across the pond to the USPGA Tour in search of the more lucrative prize money. Added to this, there has been a telling drop in engagement in grassroots golf, a trend which the ET is addressing as a priority. More telling are the dwindling TV figures compared to the PGA Tour, which has found an optimum window for European viewership with its tournaments culminating on prime time Sunday evening TV. Rather than let these trends run the property into extinction, the ET is fighting back.
The strategy centres around the Premier Series, a brainchild of the ET's Chief Executive Keith Pelley, which has been created to stem the flow of European golfers to the PGA Tour while attracting some of the stars of the U.S. game to Europe. The ET knows that fans want to watch the big names go head-to-head in high-stake matches. Starting with eight tournaments in 2017, rising to 12 by 2019, the Premier Series will deliver exactly this. The draw for the players will be prize money that is comparable to anything on the PGA tour, but more importantly for the players and uniquely for the sport, double world ranking points in their quest for a Ryder Cup spot. As we witnessed in Minneapolis, there is nothing else in golf, arguably even sport, quite like the Ryder Cup and the players will do anything they can to be a part of it.
The aforementioned six-hole short form golf is not a new phenomenon, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have both tried their hands at it and are known to be advocates, however what the ET is doing is formalising this as part of its annual calendar. By playing the matches on a Tuesday of a tournament week the ET ensures that it has a stellar cast, and while keeping it as a separate entity it can be offered as a standalone sponsorship property for brands. The target audience will be a younger demographic, aiming to breath life back into grassroots golf. As the success of Twenty20 cricket and rugby 7s has demonstrated, sports fans are increasingly favouring fast-paced action-filled sport which six-hole golf will deliver.
An open door policy on the content that the ET is sharing on its social media, is not only an attractive proposition for brands, but crucially a huge draw for the younger audience. By delivering a mix of content that showcases not just the on-course brilliance but also the personalities and characters of the sport, the ET is engaging its existing golf fans but also broadening its appeal to the passive sports fans. After all, you don’t need to have a single-figure handicap to enjoy the cigar-smoking, golf club wielding warm-up of Juan Miguel Jimenez.
The impact wont be overnight for the sport, but what these changes indicate is that the European Tour is listening to what consumers want and using its existing assets to deliver exactly that.