SBJ/April 30-May 6, 2012/Opinion

Marketers use creativity, technology to reach new golf audience

The game of golf is changing, and that can only be a good thing. Long considered to be one of the sports more resistant to change, golf has been, and still is, recognized as a game for older, affluent men who kept the game’s image exactly the same for generations.

And why change? Golf is doing great as it is; sponsors love it, the money is good and the dedicated audience has deep pockets. But change is necessary and, at this point, unavoidable.

It’s unavoidable because small changes in the tide have already taken place, ultimately setting the game up for a titanic shift. First, the sport is attracting younger players. For those seeking evidence, one does not need to look further than a handful of key moments from the 2011 PGA Tour season, as well as from the first few majors of 2012. Whether it was the 2011 U.S. Open and Rory McIlroy’s record-breaking performance, or the more recent Masters win for everyman Bubba Watson, hot-pink driver and all, or the continued rise of other young guns like Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan, the writing is on the wall. Change is here.

The trend has grown outside of golf to the brands and companies associated with the sport. Some recent examples include Callaway’s partnership with Justin Timberlake, Ping capitalizing on Watson’s driver flair, and Red Bull’s signing of young PGA pro and motocross enthusiast Fowler.

Fowler makes perfect sense as a young golfer with an edge and, frankly, what sport is Red Bull not associated with yet? As for Ping, the brand just released the new pink Watson driver after demand went through the roof as a result of his Masters run.

Getting creative

Justin Timberlake was creative director for Callaway’s latest ads, which featured Phil Mickelson.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Callaway is a different story. The brand simply wants to make its products and the game more exciting. Callaway tapped Timberlake to serve as a creative director on its most recent campaign. The move wasn’t shocking. Timberlake is well-documented as an obsessive golf nut (even owning his own course in his hometown, Memphis), but to pick such a pop culture superstar and not even use him in the campaign collateral is surprising. The result was an exciting ad spot featuring Callaway golfers hitting shots from rooftop-to-rooftop in downtown Las Vegas, golf carts being replaced by branded Callaway helicopters.

In addition to golf brands, PGA Tour events are attempting to reach the younger demographic with their crowds. A more recent example is the Cobra-Puma Girls’ Golf Fair presented by PGA Tour charities, which takes place on May 19 at TPC River Highlands. The event is geared toward girls ages 5 to 17 to learn about the game and serve as a fun introduction to the sports environment.

Technology plays

To grab the interest of the younger crowd, golf needs to offer the new technology that this key demographic enjoys. The Masters utilized a beautifully designed website and mobile application for streaming specific holes of the 2012 tournament, with great video content and various different feed options for any fan’s interest.

In addition to the Timberlake-led campaign, Callaway launched Udesign, a website that allows average golfers to design the look and feel of their RAZR golf clubs, offering consumers 70,000 different combinations for the club of their dreams. In addition to all of this, there is TopGolf, an interactive golf entertainment venue, which uses radio frequency identification chips in each golf ball to track accuracy and distance in relation to targets on the range.

They’re watching, and playing

Golf’s audience is changing, and the sport needs to make adjustments. Looking at male golfers, specifically from age 18 to 35, 33.8 percent have purchased beer at a bar or nightclub within the past 30 days (compared with the national average of 10.4 percent), according to Scarborough research. Additionally, according to Scarborough, this same group of men (18-to-35) is also 52 percent more likely to have played golf in the last year than the average American man.

Awareness has increased, as well. Just look at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where Tiger Woods recently broke his winning slump. Ratings for the final round of the tournament on Sunday were up 129 percent from last year.

There’s a delicate balance to keep in mind when attracting this new golf audience. The older golf fans are a dedicated group, and brands need to be wary of alienating these passionate followers. The PGA Tour has done a good job thus far of walking that fine line, recognizing the need for the older fans to share their passion with the younger ones, both men and women.

Randy Starr (Randy.Starr@topgolf.com) is chief development officer of golf entertainment venture TopGolf, overseeing the company’s expansion and global growth strategies.

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