The PGA Tour Is Exploring Live In-Play Betting to Boost Revenues and Viewership
As the Masters golf tournament begins this week, Bloomberg had a report that the Pro Golf Association (PGA) is exploring an association with sports betting. The PGA Tour generates $2.8 billion a year, so the tour’s leaders are making a risk assessment based on tapping that revenue source.
At the moment, the Tour has asked several data companies to submit bidding on providing a package of real-time tournament data. This data stream would feed into top international gambling houses like William Hill and Ladbrokes.
Risk/Return Trade-Off Being Explored
Bloomberg News got its hands on documents in which the governing body of men’s golf in the United States “continues to explore the risk/return trade-off associated with potential entry into the online sports gaming category“.
When asked about the risk assessment and soliciting bids, PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw said the Tour makes proposals “all the time”, but often those proposals lead nowhere. Votaw said, “We’re far away from any kind of deal. We only talk about things when we announce them. We don’t talk about things in progress.”
3% of Viewers Prefer Golf
The television ratings for the PGA Tour continue to decline. In a December 2015 Harris Poll of American adult sports fans, only 3% said men’s golf was their favorite sport. While that places golf ahead of boxing, track and field, and swimming, it places the sport way behind major sports like football, baseball, and basketball. Even hockey, soccer, and tennis have higher ratings.
Lee Burke Advises the PGA
Media consultant Lee Burke said the PGA would be wise to embrace gambling. Mr. Burke, who is president of LHB Sports Entertainment & Media, said gambling on golf would retain some of the sports viewership it has already, while drawing more fans to the television screen.
Lee Burke said of the declining popularity of golf, “The PGA Tour is at risk of losing the next generation. You have to do something or you’re going to fade away to harness racing.”
Sports Betting in the USA
Thus, it might not be the top-end sports like NFL football, MLB baseball, and NBA basketball which open the door on sports gambling in the United States. Those sports are strong and viable, and they already have many revenue streams. It might be the sports which are struggling to maintain revenues.
Despite advice to embrace such activity, the PGA Tour traditionally has tried to keep its distance from sports betting, just like the NFL, MLB, and NBA have done. The sport of golf is seen as a gentleman’s game, with its own customs and rules. Unlike team sports, in which players regularly lobby the officials for calls (“working the referees”), golfers are expected to police themselves based on an honor system.
Needs to Broaden Its Audience
Part of the declining popularity of golf may be those attitudes, though. Golf is seen as an elitist sport dominated by more affluent Caucasian males. When Tiger Woods was dominating the sport, it created a window into the game for minorities. With Tiger Woods no longer a commanding presence on the greens, many minority viewers have tuned out.
Proponents of gambling would argue the fit is natural. Betting on golf is an old pasttime. Even professional golf occasionally has tipped its cap to that history, organizing “skins games” with scoring systems based on old style golf bets.
Live Betting Is the Key
At the moment, though, gambling on golf is a pretty boring affair. Sportsbooks give players odds to win the tournament. For instance, Jordan Spieth is 8:1 to win the Masters, while Jason Day is 13:2. In the standard form of gambling, a better places a bet on one or the other, then waits four days to see whether they win the bet.
Live betting is seen as the wave of the future, though. Live in-play betting allows sportsbooks to offer bets on every single shot. Will Jordan Spieth sink the next putt? Will Jason Day hit the green off the tee, or will he make a birdie on the next hole?
Data Streams Are Needed
That is why the PGA Tour’s soliciting of bids from the data companies is important. Having a live data stream is the key to live betting. The International Tennis Federation recently paid Sportradar $14 million a year to renew its contract, up 6 times the value of the last contract, which was signed only 4 years ago.
Thus, live betting is making gambling viable for the PGA Tour at the very moment the sport needs an influx of cash — and the viewer interest gambling might bring. The risk/reward assessment might well convince the PGA that now is the time to embrace sports gambling.
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