US Open Makes Strong Push Into Digital and Social Media, Supplemental TV

Heading into the final week before the US Open at Bethpage Black, the USGA has pieced together the most coherent, immersive digital media experience of any major sports even in the fledgling digital age. I’ve ranted about the unique position of golf and tennis to capitalize on digital media because of the international appeal, simultaneous play that TV can’t capture, depth of stats and strategy that invoke discussion, and multitude of different ways fans can experience a tournament. The USGA has stepped up to start attacking this user opportunity.

After the Masters, the USGA launched a casual online game at USOpen.com that allowed fans to play Bethpage Black. They setup various golf related competitions with leaderboards and prizes attached. Graphically, the game does a fantastic job of recreating the course and will attract fans just interested in looking at the hole layout. It also has many critical characteristics to create an attractive, sustainable gaming experience – element of competition, easy to play, ability to play in small chunks of time, and the aspect of interacting with reality in the form of the golf course.

Games have become a necessity in the online experience as users spend more and more time immersed in games, and games create new revenue opportunities. Same can be said for social media, its become a necessity. However, that has led to many useless implementations. Commend the USGA for creating a strategy, and then aligning its use of each tool with that strategy.

SBJ reports the tournament will use four Twitter feeds – one with general tournament information, which they have used well to disseminate information thus far, and three others that will follow three individual players selected by the fans around the course. Interactivity is one of the pillars of digital media. Giving the fans the vote on who they want to see is a good implementation. The next step is following each group and letting each fan follow who they want.

In partnership with IBM, the USGA has launched a free iPhone app that will stream live video and provide news and information (scores, updates, etc.). Mobile is a perfect distribution platform for golf. Fans at the event can use it because they can only see one or two holes at a time, while almost every hole has action, so it allows them to follow the entire tournament. The way fans view golf, one shot at a time, makes it a great mobile video play, fitting the short-form paradigm that has proven successful. It’s also a no-brainer because of the constant leaderboard changes and scoring updates.

Unfiltered message boards and online video will supplement the offering to create a complete package of interaction points for fans.

On the TV side, in addition to the ESPN and NBC coverage, DirecTV will offer three additional channels, similar to its Masters coverage. With one channel focused on a marquee group, one at a signature hole, and the third providing updates and presumably going around the course. While great for the golf fan, I view this coverage setup as a prelude to how the USGA – and golf in general – should approach online streaming. Add more user choice (as they are doing with Twitter), give the option for access to archives of past highlights from either the hole or the player, throw in some statistic applications, integrate the Twitter feed and/or the message board thread for the hole/player and its full-functional interactive experience. Fans will likely be willing to sacrifice quality for quantity and choice, so lower quality cameras, but more coverage. Golf should consider that as an online or interactive television play.

While the US Open deserves commendation on creating a solid strategic plan before delving into the digital space, they still need to execute and eventually monetize – a discussion I held off on here, but its certainly top of mind. One note, they did release the iPhone app with IBM, a great value-add sponsor integration for both sides. More to come as the Open plays out.

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One Response

  1. US Open makes progress. Successes these to the boys.

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