Jeff Foster is one step closer to his big, hairy, audacious goal coming to fruition.
“We want to facilitate the booking of every round, everywhere,” Foster, the senior vice president of GolfNow, told Golfweek in 2016.
NBC Sports Group today announced it has acquired EZLinks Golf, a PGA Tour-affiliated company, including Teeoff.com, its online tee-time marketplace for golfers, and its technology platforms, business solutions and customer service for golf course partners.
The move cements GolfNow as the 800-pound gorilla in the online tee-time category, but it won’t be welcomed by course owners and operators, The Forecaddie hears. An independent TeeOff.com, backed by the Tour’s marketing clout, was perceived as critical to a healthy, competitive marketplace. The combination of the two largest players in the category means that, more than ever, partnering with GolfNow becomes almost a cost of doing business.
Rumors of this move had been circulating for a few months. As one insider tells The Forecaddie, the industry should have felt “the tremors.” This puts into the hands of one entity upwards of 85 percent of the online tee-time inventory in the United States, according to sources.
“How is that good for golf courses when GolfNow’s economic model is still about discounted, bartered golf?” one observer said. “That’s the kryptonite of the golf industry. This just adds fuel to the fire.”
GolfNow, which has changed the way golfers book tee times, and how much – or little – customers are willing to pay, already was one of the most polarizing subjects in golf. There’s little argument that they offer additional marketing power, enhanced awareness and direct revenue.
“Incorporating the technology and services of EZLinks into the comprehensive digital solutions we already offer will enhance our ability to help golf courses operate more efficiently and make the game more accessible for golfers,” said Will McIntosh, executive vice president, NBC Sports digital and consumer business.
Critics of GolfNow blame its predatory pricing for negatively impacting the value proposition of a round. The GolfNow-golf-course-operator agreement allows GolfNow to price the bartered rounds of golf.
“That’s the big killer,” another observer said. “Marriott would never let Expedia price their rooms. It wouldn’t happen. And if Booking.com bought Travelocity, you’d still have several other big players. That’s not the case. Golf’s an incredibly fragmented industry and to try to beat back, you know, in the tug of war in the market is going to be really, really hard.”
“This merger of two of the largest brands in golf may result in more light shining on our great game and more choice, on one screen, for the golfer. It also may result in greater investments in their respective technology, used by thousands of golf courses. Yet I am not convinced it will aid the financial success of golf courses,” wrote Jay Karen, executive director of the National Golf Course Owners Association, in an email to his membership. “My concern is the merger consolidates inventory and power to sell more heavily discounted and bartered golf. With the supply and demand realities in our industry, golf courses need no help in selling golf for less.”
With its high margins, GolfNow has become a cash cow for NBC Sports Group. Industry observers with knowledge of Golf Channel’s operations say GolfNow has become the network’s profit center, and this deal could help stave off the potential loss of PGA Tour broadcasting rights, which are currently being negotiated.