Forbes recently published a rather fascinating look into the ever-evolving world of golf-marketing – one in which the fanbase grows ever larger and increasingly more global. The PGA Tour Players Championship is all the evidence you need. As Forbes author, Darren Heitner, points out in a recent piece, “The $10 million purse and $1.8 million guarantee to the winner are the best offerings in the world of professional golf.” More interesting still, however, are Heitner’s insights regarding worldwide golf consumption:
“A big reason for the success of The Players Championship and the money provided to golfers participating in the tournament is the number of households that watch the event, leading to media interest in paying the necessary fees to gain exclusive coverage. According to statistics obtained from The Players Championship, 1 billion households outside the U.S. receive the telecast of the tournament each year (227 territories and 30 languages). Live coverage of the 2015 TPC will be seen on more than 60 channels, with Sky Sports (United Kingdom and Ireland) and NHK (Japan) being on site to produce telecasts back to their respective countries.”
In other words, a sport once plaid by guys in kilts on the freezing slopes of Scotland’s highlands is becoming truly international in ways that few other athletic competitions have achieved – with the obvious exception of football (and, no, not the US variety…) The implications, not only for the sport writ large, but for its relative commercial importance could not be more significant.
The question for life-long lovers of the game and its traditions, however, is whether these developments might be playing out so quickly as to result in a diminution of what has always made the sport so appealing. I suppose the upshot is this: at a time when sports fans are more inundated with choice than ever before, the new realities of “globalized golf” are essentially inevitable. Like any other professional athletic endeavor, modern golf is and always has been a business. Fail to compete effectively risk joining the sad list of failed efforts such as the widely heralded introduction of the NFL into Europe. There are risks – both in terms of over-saturation and lack of cultural consistency – but true golf fans can best serve the game by recognizing that the potential costs are not only necessary but manageable.
Also, this all begs the question: are Rory McIlroy and Jordan Speith enough to make up for the rapidly retreating shadows of Tiger and Phil Mickelson? That one I can’t personally predict. What I can confidently say, is that with a broader audience, more dollars and increased attention, the likelihood of discovering and encouraging future “great ones” will not only be incentivized monetarily but geographically as well.
It’s an exciting period the history of our beloved sport. Chalk me up as an optimist.