The Future of Golf: LIV and TGL are changing the course
The times they are a-changin.
As with Facebook changing its name to Meta, the momentum change happening within the world of golf is perhaps also best encapsulated by a corporate name change, too. Coming into effect this time next week (6th September), Callaway Golf will become Topgolf Callaway Brands to better reflect their ‘leadership position in the Modern Golf ecosystem’.
Image: TGL/ TMRW Sports This news quickly followed on from the announcement that TMRW Sports – a company founded by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, have launched the TGL, a new tech-infused golf league in partnership with the PGA TOUR.
News which itself could also be viewed as part of a bigger chain reaction.
As a game which has remained almost unchanged for decades, the LIV Golf Invitational Series event kicking off earlier this summer has finally kickstarted the sport into action.
While it’s difficult to pass too much judgement on either of these challenger leagues at this moment, a recent article by JohnWallStreet does provide a useful framework to see how they are set up for long term success.
According to former XFL president & CEO Jeffrey Pollack, start-up leagues should aspire to meet four key tenets.
Deliver competition that has meaning
Focus on storytelling for a new generation.
Have a commitment to co-creation and innovation.
Deploy patient leadership and capital.
Image: LIV Golf
Deliver competition that has meaning Much of the criticism of LIV Golf is that there’s relatively little at stake as the players were paid so much up front. Particularly when put in contrast with the payment structures in place at golf’s traditional Majors. It’s important to remember that the meaning held by such tournaments though has taken centuries to build. It’s always going to be difficult to compete in the short-term without spending big sums of money to attract top players. A fact that is also true, to some extent, for the TGL – where Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are financial beneficiaries. Both LIV and TGL have implemented team structures to foster meaning. This structure enables them to leverage the personal brands of their top talent and use it to enhance the reputation and interest in newer and lesser-known players. For example, Sam Horsefield should benefit from being part of a team with two of his country’s most famous personalities (Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter).
Image: UPI / Lee Westwood speaks to media at LIV Golf Press Conference
Focus on storytelling for a new generation
Meaning can also be generated and accelerated is through storytelling. The best leagues in the world build up the narrative around their teams and athletes. Traditional media – particularly television, remains an important medium for this.
This is perhaps the TGL’s greatest advantage. While LIV Golf is not on TV, the TGL will showcase their matches in a primetime slot on Monday nights from a custom-built venue.
This isn’t to say you can’t build a big audience using direct to consumer channels or social media – just look at Overtime. That said, golf has struggled to create an official product that resonates with such audiences. Instead, attention has been stolen by rogue personalities like Paige Spirinac or Barstool Sport’s Riggs.
Boxing has seen itself heavily disrupted by YouTubers and golf could plausibly be next – something neither of the current challenger concepts have particularly addressed.
Image: Barstool Sports/ Paige Spirinac and Riggs Square Off
Have a commitment to co-creation and innovation
Unlike any tournament before it, the TGL will take place inside a stadium. The virtual course and short-game complex lend themselves perfectly to sponsors (from sports betting to big tech) and to licensing opportunities (with fans wanting to play the same virtual courses at their local driving range).
Though perhaps not as drastically, LIV Golf has also altered the experience. For instance, playing music on site. “We surveyed all of our players and the overwhelming response was that is how they practiced,” said LIV president and COO Atul Khosla, “… it completely changes the vibe on the course.”
LIV Golf has also implemented the team concept, which had not previously been brought to a golf tour, and they have cut tournaments down to 54 holes and three days. These are changes that seem to have backing from fans and players alike – and therefore the potential to become more widespread across the game.
Image: Vivo IPL
Deploy patient leadership and capital
It takes time for a new league to connect with fans in any meaningful way. Nothing long lasting can happen overnight – just look at the Indian Premier League.
“In its early years the IPL would often get a little baggy and vague, sweaty legends in gut-hugging Lycra, groin-thrusting podium dancers, the same substance stretched thin across an endless, interchangeable stage,” explained Barney Ronay, chief sports writer at The Guardian.
A decade later and the IPL ranks as the fourth biggest sporting league in the world in terms of "per match broadcasting fees" behind only the NFL, Premier League and MLB.
Any new sports property is likely to evolve before finding success. So, having nimble leadership able to adjust in the way that the PGA TOUR have in launching the TGL, is imperative. While it remains to be seen if it will be a success, it is certainly good for sport to be constantly striving to move forwards.