Next week, I have the privilege of participating as moderator and keynote speaker to open the Golf, Inc. Conference in Carlsbad, California. My initial remarks will draw from extensive fan and participant research throughout golf, baseball and other horizontal leisure industries, aiming to set the stage for a vibrant conversation about potentially transformative macro trends.
Preparatory conversations with my fellow panelists for the presentation reinforced, to me, that growth remains an essential goal for sports properties.
Growth efforts in sports continue to focus upon a broadening of the core experience to tap into wider potential audiences. We’ve seen this consistently in a variety of sports venues that have emphasized the build-out of various interactive features and social spaces that meld local flavor, the essence of the sport itself and a series of derivative or entry ramp entertainment extensions. Think of the infiltration of digital oases, participatory interactive experiences (pop a shot, batting cages, be a goalie, etc.) that have become standard fare for stadiums and arenas.
The ultimate integration of legalized sports wagering will likely accelerate the introduction of new iterations of proposition bets, “play-along” e-sports and fantasy team contests that tie the actual events on the field of play into ancillary interactive competitions that can compel hard-core and new fans alike.
In the golf space, this has manifested itself with the rampant growth of Top Golf and other companies that recognize the ways in which technology and entertainment elements can encourage a broader audience to discover and create their own golf experiences.
As Top Golf Chairman Erik Anderson recently told me, the brand has taken the four-hour walk out of golf and wrapped a variety of customizable experiences around the 20-minute game itself.
The brilliance in that thinking is that it prescribes how sports properties can go about achieving higher engagement and growth by broadening their vision of the experiences that they offer, to cater to a greater audience.
Major League Baseball, a few years back, explored a variety of derivative activities that became central components of its successful PlayBall youth initiatives.
Of course, hand in hand with the above strategies is a mandate not to deviate too far so as to water down the core product. To seem contrived or pandering risks alienating the purist participant and fan.
I’d maintain that this is a slippery slope that still needs to be navigated. Chasing growth from tertiary segments has long been a lower-profit margin equation, with deeper ramifications if it erodes the long-term and loyal customer base and other generations that will follow with the same sets of values.