This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending The US Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD with my brother. But, you’ll have to take my word for it, because I can’t prove I was there. The closest thing I have to a photo of myself at The Open is this picture of Rory McIlroy’s ridiculous shot on the 10th tee. See Rory’s left shoulder? It’s pointing to where we were sitting, about a pitching wedge away from him. I was unable to capture any moment of the tournament, and, regrettably, unable to share the experience with my friends as it happened.
Even though the PGA changed its cell phone policy earlier this year to allow mobile devices at tournaments, the USGA did not follow suit. Now, I can sympathize with professional golfers who don’t want the unwanted distraction of a “Baby Got Back” ring tone during their backswing – I’m constantly battling the unwanted distraction of sucking at golf during my backswing – but I believe trying to enforce a “turn-your-devices-to-silent” policy during tournaments will be worth the reward. This is a battle that stage actors, teachers, museum staff, movie theatre managers, and more have been battling for a couple of decades, and while it’s not a perfect system, people usually do the right thing out of respect for the venue, the event, and the people around them.
Let’s face it; golfers make a fairytale living based on ratings and attendance. Yes, they are paid by sponsors (those on their shirts and those who sign the winners’ checks), but those sponsors are motivated by the awareness and brand loyalty their sponsorship brings. In this age of the social web, prohibiting on-location online word of mouth doesn’t do any favors to the sponsors, the players, the fans, or the USGA. Let’s look at why:
Ratings: Not everyone’s life revolves around watching major golf tournaments. If I “check-in” on Facebook or Foursquare (unlikely) or post a picture of myself while at the tournament, a few people might tune in. Some might have forgotten it was happening, and my post is a subtle reminder to watch. Or, even more likely, a few friends and family might turn on the tournament for a while to try to catch a glimpse of someone they know in the crowd. True, I may only convert a handful of viewers, but it is estimated that 229,574 attended this US Open. Guess how many of them have smart phones and a few hundred Facebook friends.
Future Attendance: For a golf fan, like myself, being at the US Open is a pretty incredible experience. Other enthusiasts who, in a small way, live vicariously through attendees’ online exhibitionism may start planning a trip to The US Open in San Francisco next year.
Interactivity: As cool as it is to watch golf history unfold, it can be pretty difficult to watch a golf tournament live and follow all the action. Unlike watching football or baseball live, you lose all context watching golf in person. All you can see is an individual shot or putt, and not how the drama is unfolding across the course. The US Open has a pretty cool iPhone app, but imagine how an application could be developed to improve the fan experience with video and updates from the tournament. Plus, social media integration in the app could encourage and increase the various types of sharing described above.
The USGA ran the tournament smoothly, managing capacity crowds, keeping the grounds in great shape for players and spectators, and, most importantly, offering a delicious Maryland crab cake sandwich at the concession stand. Now, to follow in the footsteps of Rory McIlroy and take their game to a dominating new level, they should embrace new technologies to help increase visibility and generate more word of mouth.