PGA Shows Online’s Ability to Attract International Fans

Omniture data showed South Korea accounted for .9% of Turner’s record setting web traffic for Thursday of last weekend’s PGA Championship, ranging up to 2.3% for Sunday’s final round. In absolute numbers the 30-50k unique users may not move the needle, and Y.E. Yang may not be the player that captivates a nation (at least yet). However, take South Korea, add in the many other countries on that side of the globe with an interest in the sport, either because of Tiger or country representation in the tournament, and on the aggregate these fans add significant valuable.

I’ve wrote about this in the past – golf and tennis are two of the sports that can most benefit from live streaming and in-depth, user oriented online coverage. The individual play that creates simultaneous action in multiple locations, and international tilt of the players create an opportunity. Golf embraced live, free online streaming last year, tennis more so this year, thankfully removing the pay wall from Wimbledon – or maybe not. Live streaming does call for a “fremmium” model, free sampling of coverage provided by the network, then a fee-based service to give users the opportunity to control their own experience, follow who they want, get advanced stats, etc.

Neither sport is their yet. South Korea tunes in and they want to Yang. England tunes in to tennis and they only care about Andy Murray. Digital providers need to allow fans to really customize their experience and give them the tools to watch any player they want online. Provide access to archives of that player, let them see his/her greatest shots, past performance at the tournament, even throw a camera on the practice range. An all-encompassing experience needs to be possible.

Not everything must be HD or professionally shot, sometimes a web-cam in the sky is sufficient for a tertiary view to feed the long-tail of viewer interest. Leagues can generate engagement with the data and archived video they already own. Once they put all of that online in an accessible format, expenses to provide the customized experience should remain low, with potential revenue increasing.

As a marketing tool, which digital is though people often forget this point, it promotes the game in these various countries. Live streaming, minimal spending on aggressive viral awareness campaigns can lead to audience sampling, and if they like what they see these sports can start to build a sustainable audience into the future. This increases the value of holding international events, selling international television rights, selling separate sponsorships through the digital platform, and someday integrating more overseas sponsors into live events), if they can generate enough interest.

With TV ratings suffering, particularly on the women’s side, and TV coverage waning between majors, online is a critical component to the long-time sustainability of these sports. It can drive attendance, introduce new revenue streams, enhance ancillary revenue streams, and most importantly build a new fan base.

Buick Open Worth Saving (Sponsors Needed)

Did you see today’s Final Round of the Buick Open, likely the last of the annual event in the Detroit area? Outside of Happy Gilmore, never have I seen a golf crowd (gallery for those golf insiders) so into the tournament, having so much fun, yet still respecting the game. Not Bethpage, not the Ryder Cup, nowhere ever. Tiger charging down the stretch with the lead helps any tournament, but this was different. Even through the TV, you can feel the passion of the fans – for the golf, for car industry, and the pride in where they live. Chants of “Let’s Go Buick” emanated from the stands.

After watching this unfold, how could the PGA let this tournament die? Maybe it would have been different if it wasn’t going to be the last year, or if Tiger didn’t play and carry the lead on Sunday, but they deserve another shot.

For the right brand, it’s a great sponsorship opportunity. Seeing the passion the fans showed for Buick today, another brand with the right fit could generate tremendous positive recognition and yield a measurable return by partnering with Buick to sponsor next year’s tournament. GM is significantly cutting back its sports sponsorship commitments, though not to $0. If they were to kick in a percent (say 10-25) of the title sponsor fee, another brand could pay the rest, and they would share tournament naming rights (i.e. Buick Open presented by Brand or The Buick-Brand Open). Tournament officials could manage expenses by minimizing big hospitality expenditures and working with the tour on purse money. Maybe not the most extravagant tournament, however positive PR for the tour, for players, and for the partner brand.

After seeing the passion in that crowd today, if the right brand steps in, that entire region would view them as saviors. It’s a good way to generate brand awareness or shed positive light on a troubled brand. The Communications teams can publicize how the company stepped in to help Buick, how committed they are to the area, and engage in community activities to solidify that. At that point, the brand has a highly engaged audience in the Detroit area, plus a compassionate national audience, they could deliver product messages and position the brand. The end game is sales, and when you bring a brand to the forefront in such a positive manner, customers will listen to the message and are more likely to follow through with purchases.

Without seeing TV ratings, attendance figures, and other measurement data, or understanding corporate performance and company strategy’s for that region, it’s hard to pinpoint potential partners and target price tags. It could be as straight forward as a retailer, like Walmart, on solid standing and marketable to people looking to cut expenses, or a big name QSR could find an angle to work with Buick or use the time to intro a new product.

Without more analysis, I don’t know the best answer. But I do know that after watching that crowd, any brand that partners with Buick and rescues this tournament will be embraced with open arms. Do any of these media exposure valuation companies put a dollar value on having an entire gallery chanting your brands name on national television with Tiger Woods walking on the screen?

Tiger Sets Model for Recovering Golf’s Image

Everything in golf comes easier when Tiger Woods is involved – sponsorships, TV ratings, attendance, media coverage, energy, excitement, everything. So it’s no surprise that the tournament Tiger hosts, last week’s AT&T National, and Tiger eventually won on the final few holes, scored tremendous ratings and record attendance. But how they drew the attendance opens the door to how golf should think.

Tiger let kids under 12 and military officers in FREE. It may not directly effect TV ratings, but it certainly helps draw attendance. The overall effect may return positive net revenue. Families on the fence about attending because its an expensive proposition for a family of four, suddenly looks at it as a value entertainment option. Instead of not attending the family comes, the adults pay, and the tournament yields concessions and merchandise revenue from the children. Though tough to quantify, golf as a sport, and the local tournament specifically, penetrates the younger generation, earning new fans, and a lifetime of revenue potential.

In the bigger picture, golf and golfers rely on sponsorships more than other major sports, since it makes the tournaments possible and subsidizes many players. The recession has exasperated sports sponsorships. Commissioner Finchem argued that golf’s charity work is not highlighted, and too much focus placed on sponsorships and spending. Well, I say do something about it instead of complaining and pointing at the media. The sport controls perception to an extent. If they feel community work deserves more attention, emphasize it, talk about it, make sure it’s done publicly. While not exactly charity work, allowing youths and military free entrance qualifies as goodwill.

Indirectly, as positive public perception grows, fans are drawn to the sport. Plus, welcoming the youth demo and executing on the entertainment portion, creates a new segment of interest. The result – better, and somewhat Tiger-proof, TV ratings.

Golf is the rare sport where seating capacity does not limit attendance, so outside of the major tournaments courses should be able to support a few extra people. It’s an easy way to leverage unused capacity to generate additional revenue for the tournament, create positive PR and a fan friendly brand image for the sport, and yield long-term benefits for the sport. Contrary to Jim Brown’s comments, Tiger does take public stands. Not everything needs to be political or racial to have an impact.

Golf Needs to Revisit Business Model

Golf is arguably seeing the most direct impact from the economic recession. The higher income, older demographic of golf fans attracts a higher proportion of financial institutions as sponsors than other sports, many of which have had to pull back advertising. Not to mention that Buick and Chrysler have bigger problems than golf sponsorships right now.

The PGA has lost two sponsors for next year already, has had two other sponsors who received TARP money remove their name from tournaments (though still pay for the sponsorship), and has almost 1/3 of its tournament sponsors up for renewal after next year. A few non-PGA, made-for-TV tournaments have also been canceled. On the women’s side, a sport already at the fringe of sports, is facing significant problems due the recession, already losing three tournaments.

Sports sponsorships are already difficult to measure results against, with golf it’s more difficult and a riskier investment because it’s a one weekend deal. Sponsoring baseball or football gives the sponsor an entire season to integrate its brand with the sport and make an impact on fans, a prolonged time period to leverage new business. Golf gives a sponsor four days, or a week if you count the pro-am. And no guarantees on who is going to play, which impacts TV ratings and attendance more than in any other sport.

On top of participation and short time periods, golf tournaments have become increasingly more expensive to run – primarily thanks to skyrocketing payouts. According to a recent SBJ article, purses have doubled since 1999, an unsustainable rate that is raising costs for sponsors and tournament operators.

In the face of sponsorship problems and a growing popularity problem (when Tiger doesn’t play), golf needs to reinvent itself somewhat. On the sponsorship front, it needs to become more creative. A generic title sponsor doesn’t cut it anymore. The sport needs to do a better job of adding value for its sponsors, and helping them unlock the value that a golf sponsorship can provide. For tournaments struggling to find major sponsors, one idea is to localize. Put the name of the city on the event, or the local commerce bureau, and gather multiple local businesses in the area to come sponsor the event. Hold networking events, get employees involved with the players, find a way for each sponsor either to generate sales or leads through the tournament. The key is to focus local, and maximize the value by connecting sponsors with the community in a meaningful way, when you can’t sign national title sponsor.

Taking this a step further, golf should investigate creating a central authoritative body to work on sponsorship and revenue generation for the sport. The PGA, USGA, players, tournaments, it’s a hodge podge of stakeholders. The various constituents should jointly form a group – not too dissimilar from the internal consulting groups that most major leagues not use – to help with sponsorship sales, possibly leading to the point where companies can sponsor multiple tournaments, or maybe the entire season, through one entity. Tournaments working individually will not be sustainable in the long run. At the least, the smaller tournaments need to share resources.

On the player side, purses need to be scaled back and participation mandates put in place. Joe DiMaggio said he always played his hardest because there might have been one kid in the stands who had never seen him play before. Golfers should consider that when they decide to play one event a month – that means you too, Tiger. No matter how good you are at any sport, no player is bigger than the sport. Many systems have been considered – from a certain number of events per year to playing each event at least once every four years, but the question is what is the penalty and how to enforce it. The WTA mandates participation or they fine you. What could you possibly fine Tiger to make this enforceable? Again this comes back to creating a more centralized organization, one where the tournaments help each other. I think the best way is to create participation rules and the penalty for not meeting the requirements is not playing in the majors – with injuries and other personal reasons as the exceptions, just like other sports. Basketball teams don’t sign players each year just for the playoffs, the play all season to qualify for the playoffs. Golf needs an incentive system that forces players to play more than they do.

Revenues should dictate purses. Less television dollars, lower payouts. Less sponsorship money, lower payouts. Look to the other sports. Golf is an individual sport and fundamentally different than the major leagues, but it can use better governance and a more centralized approach.

One final thought on sponsorship, the title sponsor category lacks significant endemic sponsors. Where is the Nike Open? Yes, they sponsor individual players, but how could a tournament sponsorship not benefit a club or ball manufacturer. The product integration and sales possibilities are tremendous. If not a title sponsorship, a secondary or category sponsorship seems like a good idea. Overall, golf needs to reevaluate its structure and move to make the changes that have wide ranging impact on the business of the game.

Perfect Storm Damages PGA Tour

When Tiger Woods announced he was done for the season after an historic US Open performance, all eyes were on golf to see if any eyes would watch without Tiger. Greg Norman helped boost generate some interest at the British Open, yet SUnday ratings still tumbled 15% without Woods.

Back in the States, the final major of 2008, the PGA Championship, already fourth of four in terms of noterity and history was already facing an uphill battle without Woods. How about this for timing: the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympics falls right smack in the middle of the tournament, Brett Favre gets traded on the eve of the opening round, and bad weather prevents the leaders from even teeing off in the third round. Bad things come in threes, well that’s three knockout punches for the weakest golf major.

Golf needs to generate interest outside of Tiger, something they have failed to do this decade, however this weekend there is impossible to guard against. The Summer Olympics is once every four years, and is not always the same weeks of the summer, never mind an Olympics with as much anticipation as Bejing has generated, mostly for non-sports reasons. Plus, the Favre story took over the headlines and reached a peak at the wrong time for golf. They could not have prepared for this perfect storm – except to have people care about the players in contention, and without Tiger there, few do.

Can Golf Turn A Problem Into An Opportunity

PGA Officals could not have asked for a a better US Open, other than if Phil played the part of Rocco Mediate, though an aspect of the everday man helped bolster interest. However, a day later, when Tiger announced he was finished for the year, the outlook turned bleak.

It’s well documented that without Tiger TV ratings decline sharply, attendance decreases, sponsorship dollars are lower, basically the event becomes secondary on the US sports landscape. This week the problem is magnified with Tiger unable to appear at his own tournament, the AT&T National in Washington DC. A Tiger-less tournament is not exactly with the golf course, the sponsors, the network, or the ticket holders signed up for when they made their respective committments.

Business is business, none of the profit centers involved will give back committed money because Tiger is not playing. It’s the chance sponsors, ticket holders, and TV makes with sports, the uncertainty. Fox paid for the World Series already, whether its Yankees-Cubs or Devil Rays-Diamondbacks they will broadcast it, but clearly the revenue and ratings will be significantly different. Darren Rovell on CNBC.com raised the question of reimbursing sponsors since Tiger is not even appearing at his own tournament. I don’t see that as feasible, nor will any sponsors of tournaments Tiger was scheduled to play in later this year receive any reimbursements – at least not this year.

As mentioned, golf’s appeal without Tiger is significantly lower. If the rest of this season play’s out in that fashion – lower TV ratings, lower attendance, less buzz, and decreased ROI for sponsors, we may not be far from having “Tiger Provisions” in every contract. This year proves you never know what sport will throw at you. Few imagined Tiger would lose a whole season to a torn ACL in a non-contact sport. To protect themselves in the future I can envision sponsor’s and TV Networks paying two different rates for rights to a tournament – one if Tiger plays, one if not. 

However, with this threat on hand, golf has an opportunity to broaden its horizons. Now is the perfect time to market new stars. Make Trevor Immelman, DJ Trahan, and Adam Scott household names that casual fans know rather than players that draw a “who’s that” comment when they appear on the leaderboard in a major. Appeal to the international strength of the tour – KJ Choi, Geoff Ogilvy, Immelman, Sergio Garcia. THe tour boasts young stars abound from numerous countries around the world, an attribute no other major sport played primarily in this country can boast. The other major sports receive most of their imports from a small set of countries, while tennis not played in the US most of the season and has a myriad of its own problems.

Schedule these players for appearances, book appearances on sports talk shows, have one of them do the popular ESPN tour (when a player goes to Bristol for a day and appears on every show under the sun), hold cross-promotional events with big names/teams in other sports to draw fans from other sports. THrow out the first pitch at baseball games, sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Wrigley, you name it they need to do it. Get these players in front of the American public. And put them closer to the fans with public appearances, hold clinics for kids during the summer tournaments. Work on having players appear in more commercials, have stories appear in ESPN Magazine and SI. Now is the time.

Without Tiger, more playhers have a chance to shine, and the Tour has a chance to provide the stage. Golf needs more young fans, after reaching a peak following Tiger’s initial impact, growth in golf, particularly youth golf and minority golf, has slowed or even slightly regressed. Marketing multiple players, and the game itself, rather than one player, will appeal to more people.

The longer golf waits to do this, the more risk they take on. Even when Tiger is active, the gap will continue to grow between Tiger and non-Tiger events. In a Ryder Cup season, with two major’s still left to play, now is the perfect time to introduce the new generation of players to the world. And they should market the heck out of the Ryder Cup, the closest thing to the Olympics in golf.

ESPN Takes Step in Right Direction With US Open Coverage

ESPN executives would only acknowledge “significant” growth in digital ad sales for its Thursday and Friday coverage of the US Open. Digital is still a fraction of TV – both in revenue and viewership, which can hand in hand – however, as ESPN improves and expands its digital coverage of major sporting events, the revenue continues to follow.

Teaming up with DirectTV and Dish Network on an Interactive TV application, ESPN expanded distribution beyond ESPN360.com. They made major progress in the area of interactivity, a key to enagaging viewers, offering a mosaic with six different cameras. Viewers could simply watch Tiger all day, one camera followed his every move, or choose to flip over to a press conference, or watch Torrey Pines signature third hole for an hour. While ESPN it is still not full customization, where the viewer can decide exactly what they want to see, they did have a variety of options, or the opportunity to watch a variety of action simultaneously. A key attribute TV does not provide.

On the sponsorship side, with six different views, ESPN could conceivably sell six different sponsorships – one per camera view – that are displayed in the video player when the camera is selected. What sponser wouldn’t pay a higher CPM rate to advertise on Tiger’s camera? Another reason flat CPM rates are a mistake in sports, but I digress for now.

Syuccessful digital coverage requires access to information. ESPN’s website is of course a plethora of sports coverage. At the Open, they stepped it up a notch, with live blogging from golf writer Jason Sobel, podcasts, and your typical leaderboard coverage. The podcasts and live blogging probably drew the most engaging interest. At this point leaderboards should be an afterthought, automatically included. In fact, users should have the option to have a live leaderboard stick on the side of the video player, if they choose.

More content leads to more viewers and subsequently more advertising dollars. Two ways ESPN can enhance the information aspect of the coverage is first by providing a live blogger with each of the camera views offered. Second, make it interactive, one feed where the blogger is posting, a less formal version of commentary (that’s what blogging is supposed to be, right), then have a message board side by side for fan’s to discuss. Taken a step further turn it into an game, where viewers predict what club the player will use, or what will happen on the next shot. That thought may be far-fetched by open the door for fans to play Monday Morning Quarterback and second guess a players decision – either via message board, or some form of interactivity with the live blogger.

ESPN can easily unleash text messaging – and another sponsor along with it – into the equation. Have fan’s vote on the shot of the day, or Best Performance of the Day via text message. The network can even market that on television.

The more creative ESPN becomes with its digital coverage, the more indispensable it becomes. Fans will begin to gravitate more and more toward online, or Interactive TV, even if regular coverage is an option. When TV’s not an option, at the office, or on the road, particularly in golf, tennis, and the NCAA Tournament (for CBS), which are all played during business hours, digital will have great traction. Even when TV is an option, the more interactive digital coverage becomes, the more viewers will use it to supplement regular coverage. That casual golf fan who tuned in to the US Open coverage at home, may still want to use the computer to track Tiger’s every move, since the TV will not (though, sometimes it seems that way). The more engaged viewers are, the higher the CPM ESPN can charge advertisers.

Quietly, ESPN also found another way digital can help the bottom line, low cost coverage. Prior to both the first and second round coverage, ESPN aired a US Open Extra show. The show, sprinkled with a few pre-recorded packages, relied heavily on the lower-cost digital programming for live action. Not only is digital programming cheaper, albeit at slightly lower quality, the network already planned to use it. ESPN did not have to deploy any extra crews or equipment. Kill two birds with one stone.

Another step in the right direction for digital coverage. Next up is the tennis US Open. Now, if only ESPN can get wider distribution for ESPN360.com so some of us can actually watch this, that would help.