Beyond the Tee: Golfs Rising Problem
Sunday September 28th was not just another hazy day for the residents of Perthshire, Scotland. It was the final day of the 2014 Ryder Cup, the biannual competition between the best professional American and European golfers. This years Ryder Cup was the first one to be held in Scotland, and the European team headlining the world #1 player, Rory Mcllroy, came into the day with a large lead over the United States. The Ryder Cup is more than a tournament, but a celebration of golf. From a business standpoint, it provides huge marketability for whichever golf course is chosen. This year Gleneagles was the lucky course. However, while this weekend Gleneagle may be soaring, golf has a wider issue. If you watched the cup, images of 45,000 plus screaming fans stuffing the ropes fighting to see a glimpse of Lee Westwood may give the impression of an incredibly popular sport. However, golf participation and sales of golf apparel are crashing.
While over the weekend attendees of the Ryder Cup are expected to buy 1.3 million dollars’ worth of merchandise per day, the sales numbers throughout the rest of the world of golf are much bleaker. According to Sport England, In 2006, 889,100 people played the old game of golf. Today that number has fallen to 751,900. This is a huge problem because as with any televised sporting event, the money is in the marketing. With participation rates falling, interest in golf is beginning to wane. With less interest, comes smaller paydays from the sponsorship deals that fund the PGA.
Golf throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s was held up on the shoulders of giants. Two golfers over those decades stand out the most, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Following the train wreck that was the exposure of Wood’s marital affairs, and the subsequent major drought that has not seen Woods in the winner’s circle of golfs biggest events since 2008, his allure has dropped and popularity ratings are at rock bottom. Phil Mickelson, a golfer who has drawn in a massive fan base through both on the field accomplishments, and off the field stories of hope, just went through possibly his worst year of golf in the past decade. On the heels of their stars fading, the PGA must look at new ways to market their game, or face declining revenue streams from advertisements and even more relegation to fringe channels normally reserved for afterthought markets. Such consequences would further reduce golf’s market share of TV revenue, compounding the popularity problem.
So what is Golf to do? I would argue that it needs to change the image of the sport. Golf suffers from huge demographics issues, with the majority of people viewing golfers as upper class white men. Golf needs to use marketing tools to bring down these assumptions, instead of focusing on preserving the traditional view of what golf is supposed to be. If Golf does not change and market their product to a younger generation, the sport may be driven straight into the rough.