By Gary Firkins, Founding Director
The Twitter post accompanying the video of Shane Lowry celebrating in a pub after his Open victory, holding aloft the Claret Jug while singing, said it all:
“Does life get any better what a man what a achievement True Champion of the people @ShaneLowryGolf”
— Bernard Flynn (@bernardflynn15) July 22, 2019
Never mind the lack of grammar; the video went viral and Lowry’s legendary performance and reputation as people’s champion was sealed.
Golf as entertainment is back.
Back on TV and, more importantly, online.
The 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National, Paris – another sports entertainment sensation – generated 22 billion social media impressions.
That’s right; 22 billion.
To its credit, the European Tour has been leading the way in sports entertainment, broadcasting pioneering social content for nearly a decade.
Its trailblazing ‘Every Shot Imaginable’ series first aired in 2010.
Since then the ‘200-yard gong shot’ has racked up more than four million views on YouTube, while ‘Rory versus the Robot’ has been watched nearly 10 million times.
Keith Pelley, The Tour’s Chief Executive, has put ‘entertainment’ at the heart of his strategy.
In a recent article ‘Innovate or miss the cut’, he suggested that three tournaments – Made in Denmark (including players walking through the ‘Heineken Lounge’), the Belgian Knockout and GolfSixes – should be known as the official ‘Innovation Swing’.
Pelley stresses the importance – and success – of these innovations in engaging a different audience.
More than half the social media engagement for GolfSixes was among the under-35s.
Sky Sports TV, the primary golf broadcaster in the UK, has also been innovating, showcasing technological wizardry at The Open.
Its impressive walk-on holograms of top players wowed viewers.
The challenge for UK golf, though, is that Sky Sports reaches a relatively small audience.
But the world is changing.
In January 2019, Discovery and the PGA Tour announced the launch of GOLFTV, a new live and on-demand video streaming service aiming to become ‘the digital home of golf.’
Golf’s potential reach and ability to engage could increase significantly, globally.
The timing is auspicious.
Recent research by the National Golf Foundation in the US – the world’s largest golf market – revealed that while on-course play is stabilizing (24.2 million participants in 2018), the growth is coming from off-course play, including Topgolf ranges and indoor golf facilities.
These entertainment venues attracted 9.3 million participants last year.
Will these customers progress to becoming on-course golfers? Topgolf thinks so.
But – and it’s a big but – are golf courses ready?
Are they thinking about experiences? Are they thinking about customers? Are they thinking entertainment?
What the professional tours, golf broadcasters and emerging digital media platforms are delivering – in tandem with off-course providers – is entertainment.
It could be a significant opportunity for the golf industry.
But to benefit, clubs and courses now need to take action, to adapt and understand what customers want.
If golf won’t entertain them, someone else will.
Image: Lee Westwood walks through the Heineken Lounge at Made In Denmark. Getty Images.