The results of the YouGov poll this week which placed golf as the most boring sport to watch (70% agreed, well ahead of darts and cricket) was refuted by European Tour Chief Keith Pelley “Totally disagree” he said “our fan engagement in 2017 totally suggests otherwise. all sports need to modernise and we are making our professional golfers personalities. If this poll was accurate we would not be as successful at business as we are”.
England Golf Chief Executive Nick Pink called it a “wake up call to the industry to change the way it depicts the sport”.
Rory McIlroy gets to the heart of the issue “everything is so instant now, everyone doesn’t have as much time as they used to”.
So this is why Keith Pelley is the right man for the job at the European Tour, even if sometimes what he introduces seems to need a little polish, everything is being thrown up in the air and boundaries are breaking. I feel this challenge makes it the most exciting time ever for our sport.
One thing is for certain, the future is interactive. The distance between the players and the viewers is narrowing. With digital transformation phones, tablets, television can be integrated into the experience, making comments, speaking to players. As tennis has recognised, more entertainment has to be provided, sport has to be more cool to get younger people involved. It’s about improving the product, striving to reach a different demographic of people a larger audience otherwise falling behind.
It’s interesting to learn that Pelley is less concerned about the hard core golf supporters than he is in widening the base of interest in the sport, to reaching out to new audiences. He calls the business he runs
“an entertainment content company where golf is our platform”
One example of this is the inspired Awkward Reporter film
When you combine personality with skill you have more chance of engaging with a younger, different audience who haven’t experienced our great game.
But that’s just the things in between the action. He’s been working on some format changes, the next of which will be rolled out in Perth Australia from 8-11 February.
The IPS Hands World Super 6 Perth tournament (tag line hashtag, don’t crack under pressure) will be played over Lake Karrinyup Country Club – 54 holes of stroke play with cuts after the second and third rounds until 24 players are left. The top 8 players are seeded into a second round as the final day is five rounds of 6 hole matchplay. The remaining 16 players are randomly paired and any matches not decided after 6 holes will be decided by a shootout hole. After five rounds of six holes the winner will be declared.
Golfsixes was tried out at Centurion Golf Club at St Albans last year and Pelley said there was anticipation, excitement, something different. A packed, flag waving crowd, music and fireworks. In that case it was contested over two days by two man teams from 16 nations over the six holes. It was marketed as “Golf – but not as you know it” The amphitheatre style stands around the tees and greens brought the fans closer to the action and the atmosphere recreated the patriotism and passion only seen at the Ryder Cup.
The six hole format is something the Tour seems to have decided on, although Pelley says they do not want to interfere too much with the integrity of the game.
At the KLM Open in Holland in 2016 fans were offered the chance to take on professionals on a par three hole during an actual tournament round. This to me seemed to interrupt the flow of the tournament, bringing the spectators into the arena itself just to win prizes for beat the pro. Spectators, even scratch golfers, are not professional athletes with all the pressure their profession entails and it seems to me that this was a step too far to bring them into their workplace. It was making a sporting event like a piece of immersive theatre.
And then there was the Hero Challenge before the British Masters. An elimination based par three competition with very loud music, floodlights, fireworks, flamethrowers and enthusiastic television coverage which bordered on yelling at the viewers. A one hour event broadcast live on television, Facebook, you tube and European Tour TV.
“Right now there is a narrative for change, to make it quicker and more exciting “says Pelley 72 hole golf will always be part of our game but you need to reach a new demographic.. ”
During GolfSixes players are encouraged to interact with fans during play and wear microphones so conversations with caddies can be overheard. The logic for this is that people can understand why decisions are made. Polls will be offered on social media, adjusting to the fact that younger viewers are not passive and want to interact with what they are seeing. Time is of the essence, and during the tournament in Vienna between 7-10 June where every player will be on a shot clock on every shot we will see how this speeds up the tournament.
It remains to be seen if tournaments get cut to three rather than four rounds, because Thursdays and Fridays are when nothing exciting happens. I think this would be a better way forward, and having a cut after the first round.
Sport is now being driven much more by consumers – what they want to watch when and on what platform. If they are not engaged, the they will leave.