Becoming a golfer is commitment. Achieving liftoff from the tee seems like a miracle the first time it happens. Once you catch the bug, the natural progression is to start watching professional golf on TV. It’s a maddening game requiring incredible patience and consistency. So when we tune in as fans on Sunday afternoon, we can relate to the emotional ups and downs while we enjoy the action and the beautiful backdrops.
Despite smaller ratings than football, basketball, and baseball, golf, by the numbers, remains a marketer’s dream. According to Nielsen, 27% of golfers earn $100,000 or more. And 43% of PGA fans are more likely than average U.S. consumers to own second homes and 60% are more likely to own stocks or stock options, according to Simmons Market Research and Experian Information Solutions Inc.
Like many sports, the opportunities for fans to enjoy the sport have broadened and deepened first with the introduction of cable viewing (the Golf Channel in 1995), followed by the proliferation of online news, streaming video and even fantasy league play — all tying back to the golfer’s desire to improve his or her own game.
Here are a few reasons golf has it all, and more, for brand engagement:
Rising Action and Time On Screen
There are more ways for pros to earn income as well as berths to majors all year long, and more visibility for international play. Fans tune in to exotic and varied locales every weekend (think tourism) and online media only increases anticipation for the fan on Thursdays and Fridays across desktop and mobile screens, laying the runway for longer viewing on Saturdays and, especially, Sundays.
The Tiger Effect and Human Interest Stories
More akin to movie stars than football stars, pro golfers have long careers with peaks and valleys, and epic comebacks against long odds. Most fans remember Jack Nicklaus’s 18th and final Major win at the age of 46 at the Masters. Not as fit or as long off the tee as he was when battling Arnold Palmer in the ’60s, the Golden Bear’s putting on the infamous back nine of Augusta was the stuff of legend. Not surprisingly, it seemed like everyone suddenly switched to oversize putters the very next day.
While we all know what Tiger did to create record ratings for tournaments (dating back to an appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show” at the age of 2), and the salacious details of his fall from grace at age 39, there’s no doubt he could bring his brand of aggressive play back to the spotlight, replete with his signature Sunday red shirt and black pants. These are just two examples in a game with no shortage of great narratives that keep golfers talking about the sport at the very same time they’re playing it.
Bringing the Sentiment To the Course
Unlike other affluent sports, golf is certainly the most relatable. Golfers of nearly all levels have at least some probability of hitting a professional-quality shot every time they play. The better the golfer, the better the odds, but even a first-timer could conceivably drop a 60-foot putt. This keeps us all playing, week after week, inspired by what we see on TV — impossible chip shots, sandies, holes-in-one, and for the scratch golfer, bend-it-like-Bubba tee shots. These golfers are driving to their local courses in BMWs, wearing polo shirts with logs, hats from charity tournaments sponsored by investment bank employers, and chasing birdies using some of the same equipment seen on TV. The golfer’s relationship to brands is more personal and logically less fleeting.
The Long Game of Engagement
Golf is the long game of engagement that reaches across screens, from the smartphone, to the living room to the course on Sundays. The pace is slower than the gridiron but the visual richness is just at strong. Suffice to say the content brands use to engage consumers will vary, and should be customized to reach an affluent audience.
Despite some decline in ratings, what’s important to remember is golf is a game that engages with emotional and teachable moments to a relationship with a game that can last decades. There will be more Tigers, Rorys and Bubbas in the wings, some from the more than 18,000 kids in the PGA’s Junior League, up from just 1,500 in 2012.