Interview Magazine "GOLF.ch" No 3/21 When it comes to sponsoring and events, Christof Marti and Bernhard Spahni are among the first addresses in Switzerland. In the interview they explain why the saying
"crisis as an opportunity" is not just an empty phrase in the case of golf.
First Corona, then the Tiger Woods accident - golf is going through tough times. What's next?
Bernhard: The world continues to turn, but the lockdowns should have allowed us to rethink the status quo and to continue to satisfy and meet the needs of golfers and potential golfers. Christof: Every crisis is also an opportunity. This is especially true for golf because outdoor activities are in. Tiger Woods? One more chapter in the life story of an absolutely exceptional athlete. I hope he comes back on tour soon..
«Crisis as Opportunity?» In all honesty, this saying is just a verbal "consolation plaster"?
Christof: No, not a consolation plaster. In the USA, the PGA Tour resumed the tournament program in mid-2020. Without on-site spectators, but with very high TV ratings and increasing demand from sponsors. Bernhard: Those who develop themselves further turn this crisis into an opportunity. But you have to be ready to rethink what has been well-tried and to break new ground.
Why is the US doing better than Europe?
Christof: The big difference are the TV-ratings. The broadcasters pay high sums for the rights because they can refinance themselves through advertising income. The sponsors use the attractive TV platform for face-to-face advertising and TV spots. In addition, the tournaments in the USA are major events with tens of thousands of spectators. An important detail: everyorganizer donates large amounts to charity projects. So the volunteers can offset their volunteer days and the partners can invite guests and customers without restrictions. Because charitable events are not subject to the corruption law. Bernhard: And: The Americans have managed to get non-golfers enthusiastic about the sport too, who spend a lot of time on weekends in front of the TV and get carried away by this sport.
What Europe needs to change?
Christof: I only see one possibility: merging the PGA Tour, Asian Tour and European Tour; Synchronization of the prize money and then, similar to tennis, setting up a rating system for the tournaments. The top tournaments outside the USA are upgraded and the PGA Tour becomes a year-round World Tour. I only see one possibility: merging the PGA Tour, Asian Tour
And Switzerland, what role do we play in golf in general?
Christof: We play an outsider role in competitive sport. We have never succeeded in developing top players. Today there is a ray of hope: Ladies Golf.
Bernhard: At tournament level, the Omega European Masters in Crans-Montana has been a highlight for years. The tournament manages to score again and again on all levels: high audience numbers, sponsor presence, media presence and, finally, player field. The Swiss Seniors Open in Bad Ragaz is a jewel that offers very interesting play opportunities for amateurs. Other tournaments will have a hard time.
How can we improve our «handicap»?
Bernhard: In Switzerland it is not possible to convey the fun of golf - it is too elitist and old-fashioned. Offers such as top golf in the USA or in UK, where people meet to play golf and sit together in a sociable and informal way, don’t exist here. Such offers offer add value for both top golfers and hobby golfers and enable easy and playful access to golf. People want fun, entertainment and play.
Christof: The image of golf does not correspond to today's reality. Everyone must do their part here. And the golf offer must meet the different needs and lifestyles.
After all, with the Omega European Masters in Crans-Montana we have one of the most prestigious events on the tour calendar - will this tournament survive?
Christof: The Omega European Masters in Crans-Montana has a long tradition and the organization is great. Every year, high investments are made in the golf course and the infrastructure. An exemplary tournament.
Bernhard: Crans-Montana reflects Swiss quality, it is well run and very well looked after - and it will survive. The location in the mountains makes Crans-Montana unique and is also the best advertisement for Switzerland as a destination.
And for the ladies?
Christof: The focus is on the VP Bank Swiss Ladies Open launched in 2020. The organizers should use the Crans Tournament as benchmark. There is only a future with a holistic concept and permanent development.
I have read that golf is not a competitive sport, but a participant sport. What does that mean?
Bernhard: This means that golf in Switzerland is only of interest to golfers. It is not a public or TV sport beyond the core target group.
And how could the sport of golf be made "interesting" for a wider public?
Christof: Manage capacities professionally and finally reposition golf.
Bernhard: Facilitate access and convey fun. The old man's image must disappear. Young, conspicuous golfers like Rickie Fowler (USA) or Tommy Fleetwood (UK) are helping a younger target group to identify with the sport.
But do the golf clubs want these changes?
Christof: I am asking myself the same thing. One is caught up in the subject of “private versus public golf” and forgets that the needs of golfers have changed a lot. I miss innovative concepts in gastronomy, in events, etc., and in appearance in general. Differentiation as a keyword.
Bernhard: Some clubs want to remain elitist and traditional as a business model. However, this opens up opportunities for other clubs to rethink their business model, to reorient it and to win new members.
And the strict club rules or etiquette keep many from playing golf.
Christof: The rules and etiquette must be observed. However, I wonder if it really would be that “bad” to accept a hoodie as an item of equipment ... In addition to the space, there is enough space for creativity and differentiation.
Christof, 20 years ago as Head of Sponsoring at UBS you landed one of the biggest sponsorship coups with Alinghi and the America’s Cup. What tips can you give organizers and golf clubs?
Christof: There are no standard recipes as every club and tournament has its own characteristics. But: the courage to change and innovate, leave the usual tracks and then implement them consistently. There is room for new things. Even in golf. And especially after Covid-19!
And what ideas would you, Bernhard, bring with your many years of experience as a global Head of Events at Red Bull?
Bernhard: There are three areas that we would address: 1. The way tournaments are played - in other words, new formats that would also attract and inspire new golfers. Strengthen the fun aspect and not just focus on the handicap. 2. Environment and offers on the golf course - catering concepts and live experience. People want to be entertained and feel good. Different customers have different needs. 3. New offers such as top golf, indoor golf bars etc. - they facilitate access to the sport and increase interest and understanding even at the top level. Because you only watch what you understand on TV. Many Europeans didn't watch NFL games because they didn't understand the rules. The NFL has invested in Europe and the number of viewers is now skyrocketing.
Interviewed by Dieter Liechti