If I had a nickel for every time I heard a teenager say “I want to watch a group of dads play sports for a few hours,” I’d have zero nickels. And yet that’s the community determining the future of every company in the world, including professional sports leagues like the PGA. So why does it feel like golf doesn’t care? To not actively pursue ways to increase engagement among today’s “plugged in” youth is the equivalent of closing your eyes and hoping for the best. There’s no telling what today’s teenagers will look, sound or act like when they grow to become the PGA’s target demographic (aka dads) in twenty to thirty years. Social media and continued advancements in technology are changing the way we engage with the world around us and the entertainment options within it. Look no further than cinema, where movie theater attendance hit a 25-year low in 2017, thanks to technology introductions like Netflix and Hulu. Why go to the theater, when you can stay in and watch from the comforts of your own home?
Similarly, why watch four hours of a sport where I have little to no relationship with the game or athletes, when I have more entertainment options at my disposal than at any other point in history? I don’t see it. At least not yet.
Now, before I run off a few (unsolicited) ways to expand golf’s audience, let me start by saying, the sport and the folks running the association, may be perfectly happy where they are. Not every company wants to grow and not every company should seek expansion. I’m writing under the assumption that expansion is a desire of those in charge. So, with that in mind, let’s talk strategy. Here are a few ways the PGA can improve their prospects of audience growth.
Personalities. Sports are no longer the main draw; the personalities playing them are. Which is why sports like Major League Baseball and Tennis are struggling to generate media coverage and social buzz. Imagine approaching a major movie studio, asking for a $300MM to develop a summer blockbuster…with a group of no-name actors. The studio would laugh at you. Personalities draw.
Media. I say it consistently, love them or hate them, journalists, bloggers and major media conglomerates drive the narrative. What they say, we believe. Now you may immediately denounce Fox News or CNN upon reading that statement, depending on your political leaning, which only proves my point. Within your echo chamber of new outlets, what those entities say, you believe. Including how deplorable “the other side” is. Now what the media typically doesn’t say, is anything (ever) about athletes or sports that do not drive clicks. Journalists are being paid more and more by clicks and engagement. The more you understand the landscape, the more you can leverage it. I don’t care how much a journalist may love a sport, he or she loves their bank account and family more. Which means, they’re chasing clicks. If you can’t give them something to drive clicks, you’re destined to the sunken place.
Rivalries. A couple of attainable scenarios can lead to more golf coverage, starting with a pairing of personalities. Rivalries sell. The game of golf has one personality people care about, Tiger Woods. Even today, after years of struggling to return to his former dominant self, the masses only tune in when he’s locked in. Case and point, the 2018 Open Championship posted its best final round overnight rating in 18 years, dating back to, you guessed it, Tiger Woods’ career grand slam win in 2000 and, you guessed it again, Tiger’s win in 2006.
Now imagine what happens when Tiger has a rival. A counterpoint for the masses to veer off in favor of. The watercooler becomes a Tiger versus debate, which doubles the number of stories and only furthers the passion for particular athletes in the game. Today, when Tiger performs and the ratings follow, the only debate is whether the man known for the red polo on Sunday is bigger than the sport. For the game and brand of golf, that is not healthy. When LeBron left Cleveland (both times), so did the fans. When Tiger misses the cut, so do the masses.
No one knows what the future holds, but one thing is for certain, those responsible for tomorrow are among those playing video games for a living, building ‘Instafame’ at the age of fourteen and spending over fifteen ours a week on their phones. Three scenarios that didn’t exist when they were born.
Now fast forward thirty years.
Is the PGA ready for them?
Not at the moment.