What an exciting time to be a sports fan right now. The NBA and NHL playoffs are both down to the final two teams and the MLB season is starting to heat up as well. While those sports are more up-tempo, let’s swing to a more mellow sport, golf (but keep your head down or else you’ll miss the ball). From May 23-29, some of the best golfers in the world drove, pitched and putted at the majestic Point Grey Golf & Country Club, host venue for the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada’s flagship Vancouver event, The Freedom 55 Financial Open. The tournament has been a client of Score Marketing Inc. for two years now, helping to secure multiple sponsors and Pro Am Team participants.
Golf has historically been known as “a gentleman’s game,” perhaps a nice way of putting the fact that it appeals mostly to an older and male audience. In a survey of 565 attendees of the PHS Wichita Open, 73% of the respondents were male and 63% were between the ages of 30 and 60 (Stoldt & Vermillion, 2013). Now this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when considering that demographic is also more likely to be well educated and affluent. Over 50% of respondents had an annual income over $100,000, and over 70% had a college degree or better: statistics that entice sponsors specifically from the automobile and financial industry (Stoldt & Vermillion, 2013).
Golf organizers are not naïve however; they know they have to innovate to appeal to a younger audience sooner or later. On May 25th at the Point Grey Golf & Country Club Lounge, I was fortunate to attend an educational event hosted by Sponsorship Marketing Council Canada (SMCC) and moderated by Score Marketing Inc.’s Andrew Merai. I got to hear from both the tournament director, David Lee-Fay, and the president of PGA Tour Canada, Jeff Monday, on the evolution of golf and sponsorship.
“I remember talking to a couple during a tournament and I asked who was winning, to which they replied, we have no idea! These are our ideal customers,” Jeff explains, “because it’s less about the golf for them and more about the atmosphere.” An example of a tournament with a great, almost non-golf like atmosphere is the Waste Management Phoenix Open, marketed as the “Greatest Show on Grass,” and also known as the “People’s Major.” Check out the video below and if you’re pressed for time, skip to the 1:05 minute mark to see what I mean.
Looks fun, right? While Jeff did admit in Q&A that the PGA Tour had to be careful not to turn all their events into fraternity parties, he could not argue with the success of the tournament. In 2016, almost 620,000 people attended the event over the four days, shattering the previous record of 560,000 set in 2015 by the same tournament. The sponsorship activations are also spectacular. The Coors Light Birds Nest features live music every night of the tournament and you have to admit you wouldn’t have guessed the photo below is from a golf tournament.
The dream activation for any sponsor.
So apart from beer and live music, how else can golf innovate to appeal to a younger, more tech-savvy audience? Jeff and David both cited the PGA Tour’s increased attention to digital, mobile media platforms. In 2015, the PGA Tour and Bedrocket Media Ventures partnered to create Skratch TV, the first internet video network dedicated to everything golf, from original content to PGA highlights and special production from events. GoPro has also played a role in the partnership using “their spherical capture technology to truly immerse golf fans in a virtual reality experience” (PGA Tour, 2016).
Golf has a rich history and it is hard to imagine tournaments like The Masters and the various opens not being a big deal. However, the fact is that millennials are known to have shorter attention spans and golf tournaments are lengthy events. The PGA Tour will have to think of more ways to engage their audience on and off the golf course in order to remain relevant, and avoid becoming a niche sport. It will be interesting to see in the coming years if the PGA Tour Canada’s digital efforts pay off and if those digital spaces will be activated effectively by sponsors.