On November 23rd 2018, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson faced off in a first-of-its-kind unofficial PGA Tour event at the Shadow Creek golf course in Las Vegas.
Billed simply as ‘The Match’, Woods and Mickelson’s meeting was regarded with particular distaste by the bulk of the golfing community. It was labelled by various media outlets as a “vulgar marketing exercise” and “a shameless act”.
The PR photo shoots for The Match certainly didn’t help matters with Mickelson and Woods pictured next to huge piles of cash. It was as tasteless a sports marketing ploy as you could imagine.
The winner of the contest, Mickelson, walked away with an $8 million bounty. The original prize was supposed to be $9 million but the PGA raised an issue with the amount and it was subsequently reduced. One can only presume this was so the FedEx Cup Bonus payouts were not dwarfed too much by the winnings for this contest.
It was golf’s first real venture into a 1v1 competition and, vulgar as it may have seemed to many, it is worth noting the different experiments that were toyed with.
The public was not allowed access to the course so there was no crowd of thousands cheering on every shot. The players wore microphones which were live throughout the event. Also, they finished out the day playing the final playoff holes under the lights. This really was a novel undertaking for a golfing fixture.
What this was all about, however, was creating a duel that would entice the golfing community into splashing the cash on pay-per-view. It was $20 for US residents to purchase the viewing rights to this match.
Those who did fork out for the PPV were treated to coverage from Samuel L. Jackson and Charles Barkley. I’m sure it was fun and different but it is likely to have only catered to a small portion of the more serious golfing viewers.
Sky Sports ended up showing the event in the UK after a late deal was agreed upon just a day before the players teed off in Las Vegas. Interestingly, it was not a PPV event on this side of the Atlantic.
Maybe you saw The Match as a tacky, cash-grabbing opportunity for two players who certainly don’t need the money. Maybe you were probably delighted to get the chance to watch a 1v1 contest between two of the sports greatest players from the last twenty years. Whatever your take was on the meeting between Woods and Mickelson, it’s likely that this is something golf fans could be witness to on a more regular basis in the not-too-distant future.
The sport is based on the whole concept of a field of the best golfers battling it out over a four-day tournament. Only when the leaders have to be separated through extra playoff holes at the end do fans get the excitement, tension and atmosphere of two or three top professionals in direct competition. That is why The Match opens up a whole world of new possibilities to the sports organisers.
Turner Sports purchased the broadcasting rights for the contest in the US. They have said they would be interested in broadcasting similar competitions in the future. They will first need to iron out all potential technical issues on their end. A glitch in the minutes leading up to Woods and Mickelson teeing off meant the company could no longer process payments. As a result, Turner Sports decided to show the event free to anyone who ‘tried to purchase’ the PPV package.
This also meant they had to issue full refunds to those who had successfully purchased the match earlier in the day. Not to worry, they had only paid well over $10 million for the exclusive rights to the event.
Over at Turner, they’re viewing the bigger picture, though. It has already been reported that Woods v Mickelson could end up being a series of duels. Turner Sports will be eager to make their money back through more successful hosting of the next fixtures.
While much of the golfing world is still unsure what it thinks about this new development in how the game is consumed, others are more accepting of the fact that this is going to happen whether they like it or not.
Money talks and if match-ups like Woods v Mickelson can make a tidy profit for all involved on a healthy basis then all that’s at risk is the sport’s integrity. Or do we take that side of the sport too seriously? There’s likely to be a healthy middle ground where competitions like The Match can take place without impacting on the regular PGA season and the Majors. Finding that middle ground is the problem.