During the 2019 Masters, golf fans were able to see every shot from every player. It was a win for the little guy—not only for golf fans but also for players like Kevin “Gainz” Tway, who will receive close to the same volume of coverage as Tiger Woods for the first time in his career.
It’s rare for game-changing innovation in sports coverage to be sprung on consumers. Professional sports tend to be dictated by the monoliths. Coverage is bound by expensive and lengthy rights contracts that stunt innovation.
But last year Augusta National stunned the golf world and altered the future of professional golf coverage. Masters.com now allows fans to see all shots from all players almost immediately. It’s the greatest innovation in golf coverage since the advent of streaming. We are no longer dependent on the broadcast; we get to choose whom we want to watch. The Masters has brought the on-demand economy to golf.
The Masters track feature which allows for shot tracer and video of every player.
The Masters is the only organization in major professional sports that could innovate in this way. Unlike other leagues and events, the Masters has repeatedly turned down lucrative long-term contracts. Its television deal with CBS is year-to-year. Sponsors have no signage inside the grounds. Every partner must present the Masters exactly how the green jackets want. This maniacal control allows them to deliver their product in the manner they choose. And so far, they have chosen to remain under-commercialized and consumer-centric. Now, thanks to advances in streaming technology, they are the foremost innovators in golf coverage.
For 51 weeks a year, the Masters observes the world of golf, and they apply what they learn to their own product. Every year, their website and app get a little better. They understand their core product is about golf, not sponsors. That’s the reason both casual and diehard fans clamor for this week in Augusta: it’s the purest version of professional golf available.
The innovation ushered in by Fred Ridley is already echoing throughout the industry. On Monday of the 2019 Masters, the PGA Tour surveyed their “Fan Council,” their group of diehard fans, and asked for feedback on a potential “new cable television and digital streaming media property that will provide the most comprehensive coverage of the PGA Tour from first tee shot to last putt each day of competition.” This release was undoubtedly prompted by the then-forthcoming announcement from Masters Chairman Fred Ridley in his annual press conference. In other words, the Masters forced the PGA Tour to raise the bar.
In the shifting media landscape of the 21st century, the company that provides the best product usually wins. While the Masters is just one week a year, the implications of today’s innovation will be profound. Golf coverage will have to adapt. The PGA Tour is already exploring options and perhaps will follow suit. The big loser could be the Golf Channel. Reliant on rights from the major tours, its future could depend on creating its own content.
Last year, a country club in small-town Georgia delivered the best online golf coverage ever. The big boys of the industry will have to scramble to catch up. But let’s hope they also learn the larger lesson: those who turn down short-term windfalls in order to focus on the creativity and quality of their product will always win.