The PGA European Tour faces some considerable headwinds in terms of reaching new fans and securing new partners.

Some of those challenges: overcoming perceptions that golf is an elitist sport, draws a niche audience, takes too long to play (and watch), and is expensive to activate on a tournament by tournament basis.

In his presentation “Match Play: Embracing Innovation to Drive Partnership Success,” at IEG 2018, Nathan Homer, PGA European Tour chief commercial and marketing officer, discussed how the golf organization has embraced innovation to reach new audiences, deepen fan engagement and enhance sponsor value—and how other properties can do the same.

Below are edited excerpts from his presentation.

Innovative Formats and Events: GolfSixies

  • Six-hole international team match play competition
  • Fifty-five minutes average match time
  • Nineteen percent of U.K. viewers were new to golf

We launched GolfSixies last year in the U.K. to make golf as accessible as possible. We got great feedback from the press, the players and the fans. And interestingly, 19 percent of viewers were new to golf.

We captured content from the event that was unique from our core golf content, and we distributed it differently. We didn’t just put it out on the Golf Channel. We distributed it through various channels to gain broader pickup.

Innovative Formats and Events: Hero Challenge

  • One-hole, one-hour night golf, made-for-media shootout on the Tuesday of tournament week
  • Twitter live stream of Dubai event had 500k unique viewers

We wanted to do something different from the traditional golf format, and we decided on an event that was made-for-TV entertainment. The event features celebrities, music and fireworks; it’s a fun and simple knockout competition.

We distributed content from the event across different channels, including Twitter Live. Seventy percent of people who engaged the content had never engaged anything golf-related on Twitter before. They saw something that was totally different.

Innovating Through Digital Content

  • More than 1.6 billion social impressions in 2017
  • 38 percent year-over-year increase in social impressions

We have a production company that captures content from our events all over the world. They’re not just brilliant with core golf content, but non-golf content as well.

We can produce that content for our corporate partners. We can brainstorm with them, write the brief, do the board, film it and distribute it. We have made great strides in creating and distributing digital content that doesn’t just talk to our traditional audience.

When I first started it was all about having the best social media content in golf. That’s not very aspirational. We don’t just want to have the best content in sport. We want the best content in entertainment.

Innovating Through Partnerships

Traditional sponsorship approach:

  • Rights and benefits
  • Go activate yourself!
  • Hope you achieve good metrics!

European Tour partnership approach:

  • Clarity on objectives and KPIs
  • Joint activation platform and plan
  • Rights and benefits required

Sponsorship sellers typically say ‘I have this great list of rights and benefits, do you want to buy them?” And then they leave the sponsor alone to activate and hope they have good metrics so they renew the partnership.

We flipped that around. We start conversations by talking about a prospect’s business. What are their objectives and KPIs? What do they want to achieve?  We then come up with an activation plan together. You need to show how a partnership can come alive, why it makes sense and why it will work.

The benefits the sponsor gets, which is often where sellers start a conversation, is now an outcome. You’re not giving away assets you don’t need. You’re giving them what they need.

Innovating with Partners: Topgolf

We’re innovating with the partners we work with, including Topgolf. Topgolf will probably be one of our most important partners in the next five or ten years. They’ll introduce more people to golf than every golf federation in the world.

Topgolf offers a product that people want, and they can help us engage a younger audience. Their database is far bigger than ours will ever be.

Innovating Through Measurement

  • Proving the value of new media content to partners
  • Making digital engagement relevant to partners
  • Capturing over $50 million of previously “lost” value to partners

We’re driving significant value for our partners, but we couldn’t prove it. Doing great things is great, but it’s not worth a lot if all you’re going to report is the same fluffy digital metrics that everyone else has.

We work with a company called Hookit. They have a tool that changes the digital metrics of impressions, views and engagement.

CEOs and COOs don’t care about the soft metrics—they want hard dollar values. Hookit can convert impressions, views and engagements into a dollar number that is credible and accepted. Emirates, BMW and Rolex—three of our biggest partners—accept the media valuation that we’ve done in digital.