Golf on TV: Is there a way to salvage ‘The Match’ concept?

Nov 23, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Tiger Woods concedes a putt to Phil Mickelson to play extra holes during The Match: Tiger vs Phil golf match at Shadow Creek Golf Course. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Golf on TV: Is there a way to salvage ‘The Match’ concept?

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Golf on TV: Is there a way to salvage ‘The Match’ concept?

On the morning after “The Match: Tiger vs. Phil,” Bill Hobson, host of “Michigan Golf Live,” asked me a question that I confess I hadn’t fully considered.

Hobson wanted to know: What’s next? What’s the next iteration of the pay-per-view, match-play spectacle? Will this become an annual Thanksgiving weekend event, sort of like the old Skins Games?

I hadn’t given the subject much thought. I had low expectations for “The Match,” yet still managed to be disappointed by the coverage. And I’m skeptical as to whether golf fans and potential rights-holders and sponsors will support future efforts given that “The Match” was characterized by dismal play, an uninspired production and refunds after Bleacher Report began offering free coverage.

After securing the rights to “The Match” in August, Turner president David Levy told SportsBusiness Journal that he regarded the event as “a very good demonstration of how we think sports should be watched, viewed and discussed.” That included multiple platforms, peripheral programming (such as HBO’s “24/7” special) and, hopefully, an innovative production.

Bottom line: It didn’t work out.

But let’s consider Hobson’s question. He’s an astute follower of the game and thinks these special events will become an annual thing.

If so, what needs to change and what form should they take? Let’s look at a few areas.

  1. This should go without saying, but get the basic stuff right. Nothing irritates consumers more than the sense that they’ve been ripped off, and that’s how a lot of people felt Friday afternoon after paying $19.99, then learning that Bleacher Report was streaming it free. Fortunately, most cable and satellite providers – in addition to Bleacher Report – offered refunds or credits.
  2. Speaking of the basics, how could the organizers spend two months planning the event but forget when the sun sets? Finishing under the lights on a rinky-dink par-3 hole was more unsatisfying than ending the World Cup on penalty kicks.
  3. Come up with a format that doesn’t make many of us feel vaguely repulsed. The image of two fabulously wealthy guys standing behind a $9 million pile of money only reinforced the notion of the game’s elite players simply looking for an easy payday. Frankly, I would have found it less tawdry if Woods had accepted the reported $3.25 million appearance fee to play in Saudi Arabia. At least he would have had to travel a great distance and put in an honest week’s work.
  4. One of the many problems with “The Match” was the organizers were counting on seeing Woods and Mickelson in top form. That didn’t happen. You can’t guarantee great golf; the players won’t be sharp every time they tee it up. But I’d settle for something that is at least interesting. Maybe it’s a hickory tournament or a long-drive contest or a par-3 contest or speed golf or 18 holes over a 9,000-yard course or a cross-country golf event or a virtual tournament played by Tour stars at Topgolf locations around the country. People far smarter than me can put their minds to work on the format. And if you’re going to give players the power to make wagers, force them to do it on every hole.
  5. If you’re going to put microphones on the players and caddies – the lone interesting production concept of “The Match” – don’t hire an army of announcers to talk over the players. There was nothing that Peter Jacobsen or Darren Clarke or any of the other “Match” announcers could have said that would have been more interesting than even the most mundane comments from Woods and Mickelson.
  6. Give us something more than Toptracer, which is fine, but is standard equipment these days. Turner should have had the folks at Hawk-Eye Innovations whip up something special for the occasion. Sure, it might be expensive, but if viewers are paying $20, they deserve to be wowed, to see something they haven’t seen before.
  7. I’m not optimistic that we’ll see similar pay-per-view events. But if we do, the organizers will need to put a lot more thought into how to present them so that fans and sponsors feel as though they are getting their money’s worth. Gwk

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