Deal with an exclamation point for golf

By SHIV DAS

The Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Tour, the pinnacle of tournament golf in the world, has inked its biggest deal to date that will see the launch of a new Tour-branded over-the-top (OTT) video streaming service reaching out to fans through every screen and mobile device across 220 countries and territories outside of the US. What a spread!

The unprecedented 12-year relationship with Discovery Inc, to begin in 2019, would include global multi-platform live rights outside the US to all PGA Tour media properties — including the six Tours operating under the PGA Tour umbrella and more than 140 tournaments annually such as The Players Championship, the FedExCup Playoffs and the Presidents Cup.

In the catch, it all adds up to about 2,000 hours of viewing on pay-TV and free-to-air channels, digital, even short-term feeds, not forgetting non-live library rights for all platforms which the PGA Tour believes will further grow the game and increase its global fan base. Enter the US$2 billion (RM8 billion), eye-popping TV tie-up with Discovery.

“It puts an exclamation point on the building, growth of our brand and our product in a very aggressive way,” said the Tour’s point man in Asia, VP/ED of the CIMB Classic, Todd Rhinehart, who is based at TPC Kuala Lumpur (TPCKL).

In the US, he said, “people were consuming the Tour’s programming on various platforms in ways different from what we were used to six years ago.

“Now we are going to be able to do so on an international basis, be it OTT (content via the Internet) or on different platforms, subscription- based…it really provides us the mechanism to further grow the Tour.

“It’s a media business partnership. Discovery has our rights internationally on the broadcast side. In the 12 years, starting from 2019, it will serve to accelerate our growth internationally.”

As far as the Tour’s Malaysian office is concerned, it has the distinction of being the Tour’s first “office” outside the US. Since then other offices had been set up in Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo, Melbourne, London and Toronto.

Apart from the long established CIMB Classic in Malaysia and World Golf Championships- HSBC Champions in China, the PGA Tour launched a third event in Asia with the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea last year. The Presidents Cup was held for the first time in Asia in 2015 in South Korea and returns to Melbourne in 2019.

Currently, Malaysian broadcaster Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd has the rights to the PGA Tour through Golf Channel in Malaysia.

The Tour works with different broadcast partners in each market. In Singapore, it’s StarHub Ltd; in Japan, NHK; and in China, two different platforms. The new deal doesn’t affect any of them currently.

“Growing the game is not just events, but getting people engaged and learning the game. If you look at the numbers, we have 87 members of the PGA Tour that come from 27 countries. Our footprint has grown and we want to be able to tell the stories in communities where such players are from.”

Players such as Hideki Matsuyama of Japan have a massive following back home, which is pretty much like Se Ri Pak of South Korea when she won the US Open in 2000. The stories simply had to go back to the countries where they are from.

For now, there’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand who recently obtained a special temporary membership of the PGA Tour. He played in the recent Memorial Tournament and finished in the top 15, and also enjoyed two top 5’s in the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship and World Golf Championships- Dell Technologies Match Play earlier in the year.

“He’s just a few FedExCup points away from earning his full PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season, making him the first professional golfer from Thailand to make it onto our Tour. What does that mean to Thailand? It’s big. It’s the same with Anirban Lahiri of India who is playing in America.

“For Malaysia, there is Gavin Kyle Green, who played collegiate golf in America, and he has won his Asian and European Tour cards, after having topped the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit last year. He’s not that far off (from playing on the PGA Tour).”

Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav has every reason to gush, saying: “It’s a first; and the long-term partnership between the PGA Tour and Discovery will create a new Home of Golf offering in every market outside the US.”

For PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, it’s an “exciting new step to better service out international broadcast partners and drive fan growth”.

Meanwhile, Rhinehart sees golf developing in the region with its “tremendous athletes”. The key, he said, is identifying those with the skill sets and capabilities to take it to the elite level.

One of the keys to future growth is accessibility to golf; similar to the First Tee programme in the US created in 1999 to provide affordability and accessibility to those who didn’t have that accessibility. A lot of times, the programme was set up in rural areas.

There’s Norman Xiong, 19, a product of the programme, the latest winner of the 2018 Jack Nicklaus Award for the Top Collegiate Player of the Year and who is now a pro. His coach Casey Martin, a former pro and collegiate teammate of Tiger Woods, sees him as the next Tiger.

Rhinehart sees the need to break the mindset that golf is an elite sport. TPCKL has a Rising Star programme that helps teenagers, both boys and girls, from charity homes gain exposure to do just that.

“It’s not really to create the next Woods, but to teach them life skills around the core values of golf — honesty, respect, integrity and sportsmanship.

“They might get a golf scholarship, but become a lawyer, doctor…become a productive citizen, because of learning the game at a young age,” he said.

He recognises that there are facets of the game that are emerging to highlight the fun elements in it. A new venture, Topgolf, has taken its bow in America with a driving range-like setting, but more for those not necessarily wanting to play golf.

There are target scores to aim for, but it’s also for sitting around, having food and drinks and just socialising.

All told, there’s much going on the golfing world and the feeling is that “we ain’t seen nothin’ yet”.