How Digital Is Transforming The Tournament Experience

Golf fans should be pretty excited by some news that they may have missed last week. Somewhat quietly, the PGA TOUR announced that they would be offering streaming coverage of every shot at next year’s Tournament Player’s Championship. One has to think that this may be a precursor to the not too distant future of golf broadcasting, once the logistics and business model are aligned. Such a scenario would be a net win for both golf fans and the TOUR as the former would have total control over what they watch and the latter would likely have many more opportunities to create revenue producing sponsor activation around the multitude of choices.

But what does this future do for the in-person, onsite experience of watching tournament golf? We’ve done a fair amount of research about optimizing the overall fan experience, across many different sports. And anyone who has attended a game in the past few years has clearly seen the results of a heightened focus by sports properties on trying to enhance and differentiate that experience to combat the very real concern that at home viewing options are a viable alternative to fighting traffic and battling the crowds. The TOUR’s digital streaming vision not only provides greater flexibility in what one can watch, but coupled and integrated with existing and still improving analytical packages and deeper content dives, fans at home will be provided with greater context and understanding from the comfort of the couch.

That said, our research has certainly led me to conclude that while these at home options are a welcome enhancement that can only serve to create more engaging experiences for fans anywhere at any time, there are still so many unique elements of the onsite experience, that even the best current versions of virtual reality can not replace. Beyond the heightened focus on events within events, upgraded hospitality and myriad experiential activations that put the on-site fan behind the scenes and inside the ropes, while turning the tournament into a truly social experience, there has been significant investment in technology to add even more value to the onsite golf experience.

Our firm has enjoyed a front row seat in observing the increased emphasis that many sports properties have deployed towards creating customer centric digital solutions. Having had the opportunity to research spectator needs, behaviors and expectations across a variety of different sports, we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to designing on site apps in golf and beyond. The adoption curve of these apps is driven not only by target audience demographics and behaviors, but also by the nuances of a particular property. Digital teams looking to check all of the right boxes for bringing a complex event like a golf tournament, to fans across a wide range of engagement levels need look no further than a number of key content and navigational best practices.

Story Telling and Staying on Top of The Action

First and foremost, the most successful sports event apps recognize that fans are engaging in digital to enhance the organic experience of attending or viewing that event. This means first and foremost keeping people up to speed on the scoring essentials and then digging below that surface, through easy and intuitive navigation to insights on why and how things may have occurred. In the best applications that we’ve observed, this goes beyond a leaderboard to incorporate retrospective play-by-play elements, highlights and in some cases, providing historical benchmarks and real time expert commentary that place the score in an appropriate context. Real time video plays a critical role here, not to rehash what users have likely already seen, but to enhance it from different angles, or supplement it with advanced analytics that bring it further to life.

The most robust and highly appreciated event apps, recognize that not all users have extensive event knowledge and provide extra content layers. For example, at this past year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Amanda Weiner and her USGA digital team were confronted with multiple challenges posed by an expansive physical field of play. Some of this was addressed through an AI enhanced video solution, adjacent to concurrent shot by shot detail accessible through an interactive course map. Complete player biographies importantly, provided casual fans with an added element of story telling and background.

Personalized Immersion and Interactivity

Story telling transcends what’s happening on the playing field to encompass one’s personal event consumption experience. The best live sports apps have been designed in ways that put the user into the action, where virtual reality elements enabled one to hold the trophy or explore the locker room. Others cover a more basic but needed focus on real time wayfinding, solving for the onsite challenge of navigating from the parking lot to one’s seat and other onsite amenities or activations. The best interactive elements allow spectators to isolate (and in the case of golf, locate) specific players, and simultaneously track their performance through shot charts and other drill downs that allow the user to immerse themselves into those statistics that have personal relevance. At this year’s U.S. Open, one could easily follow favorite players or groups on a shot-by-shot basis, and then get visual step-by-step directions to find them, if desired. The result is a win-win for growing engagement both onsite and at home.

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