Golf Betting Will Spur Growth, Executives Believe

Golf Betting Will Spur Growth, Executives Believe

Tiger Woods’ first professional win in five years capped a record-setting PGA Tour season. Leading media and corporate executives believe sports betting can propel it even further.

Investor George Pyne told Fortune that betting is the key to further engagement and interest in professional golf. Despite a Woods-fueled surge in television ratings that resulted in some of the biggest numbers in decades, the shifting entertainment landscape has diminished viewer totals from even the most popular sporting events.

Stakeholders like Pyne believe betting could be a way to reverse that trend.

“Think about golf, which has 78 players playing at any given time on a course. All of a sudden, golf becomes a lot more engaging to those that care about it. The betting opportunities are off the charts.”

The founder and CEO of Bruin Sports Capital, Pyne told an industry conference earlier this week that sports betting, especially on golf, is one of the most powerful ways to attract new viewers and keep them engaged. His sentiments echoed other corporate and media interests, which have raced to create more gambling-centric programming after the Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on sports betting.

That has carried over to the sports leagues, which have looked to capitalize on a new way to stoke engagement – and a potentially lucrative new revenue source. Pyne said he previously discussed with ways to incorporate betting into golf with PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan.

Monahan likely proved a receptive audience.

PGA Tour Sees Gambling Opportunities

Woods’ rise in the late 1990’s captivated a generation of golfers and helped propel the sport further into the mainstream of the American sports consciousness. But even though Woods’ exploits on, and off, the course kept golf in the headlines, it still trailed team sports like football, basketball and baseball in popularity.

Gambling could be one way to change that.

The sport is uniquely positioned to attract bettors. Each competition boils down to a succession of shots between long pauses. Each break presents a new chance to bet the outcome.

A tournament can feature more than 100 players averaging around 72 shots per round of a multi-day competition. That’s a series of wagers no other sport can rival.

That’s not even to consider the wagering opportunities on individuals, Woods most notably. Will he make the cut? Will he finish top 10? Will he finish ahead of Phil Mickelson? The possibilities are nearly endless.

As investors like Pyne note, viewers are 19 times more likely to watch and stay watching if they have money on the line. Betting means more eyeballs on the screen and money to the ears of the Tour and its sponsors.

With public support from Monahan and a multitude of stakeholders, we may reach a time when betting odds appear on broadcast screens alongside player scores and hole distances.

Though that may seem unbelievable now, it seemed impossible just a few years ago the PGA would even acknowledge legalized gambling entities let alone seek to partner with.

Legal Betting Helps Shift Leagues’ Attitudes

Nevada excluded, nearly every form of sports betting was outlawed in the country for decades. Professional sports leagues and the NCAA applauded the ban and continued to fight against any of the most remote affiliations with gambling.

That began to change earlier this decade.

Public attitudes began to shift, fueled by the near ubiquitous availability of offshore betting sites. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver publicly advocated for regulated gambling in a watershed editorial in the New York Times in 2014, a seminal moment in the relationship between gambling in sports in America.

Meanwhile New Jersey began a multi-year legal challenge to try to overturn the federal ban and take legal sports bets. The battle proved successful, and the Supreme Court announced it had struck down the ban in May of this year.

Now five states are taking legal sports bets, two more could do so later this year and up to a dozen may offer wagers before the end of 2019.

With a fight against gambling no longer a reality, the leagues have tried to capitalize on the new financial opportunity. Arguments for an “integrity fee,” or a cut of revenues they argue are necessary to protect the game from corruption, have largely fallen flat.

Instead, leagues have looked to monetize through sponsorships, data collection and promotions.

These deals are part of the slow integration of American sports and gambling, much like it has been for decades in Europe. Progressive leagues like the PGA Tour realize gambling can be an asset to spectator enjoyment, engagement and, most importantly, its financial bottom line.

The latest public pitch from a corporate leader shows professional golf, like other sports leagues, are one step closer to an intertwined relationship between their competitions and those who want to bet on them.

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