News and Insight

Poulter was right. Golf picked a hell of a time to let the cameras in.

As seen in Sport Business.

Netflix’s hotly anticipated ‘Full Swing’ documentary was released last month, and Right Formula's Nicholas Palmer shared his thoughts with Sport Business looking at how 2023 could mark a watershed year for the sport.

Netflix has landed right in the eye of a storm with its new ‘Full Swing‘ docuseries following golfers on the PGA Tour.  

With guaranteed behind-the-scenes access to the Majors and previously closed-off parts of the golfing world, this documentary could ignite a passion for golf among sport-interested Netflix subscribers. In the words of Ian Poulter, “You picked a hell of a year to start following the PGA Tour.” 

Poulter is alluding, in part, to a battle for golf supremacy among the old and new order, a battle characterised by the recent argument between LIV Golf rebel Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy at the Dubai Desert classic, first on the driving range and then on the last few holes on the Majlis course at the Emirates Golf Club.

The global coverage of these moments in the world of golf demonstrates the appetite of consumers to be involved in the drama that has come with the LIV Golf breakaway league, and points towards strong signs that the documentary will receive high viewership numbers.  

It may have seemed like an oversight from the PGA Tour to let the documentary run with the inclusion of the LIV Golf breakaway golfers, giving them free publicity on PGA Tour-owned channels. However, with the genuine intrigue of a golf-interested consumer in the ongoing struggle between the new tours, this move from the PGA Tour can be seen as a calculated risk, with hopes that the new buzz around the game will create and nurture new fans of the traditional PGA and DP World Tours.


The North Star

The need for increased viewership on both the DP World Tour and PGA Tour – and the knock-on effect on sponsorships – could be greatly bolstered by the launch of the Netflix documentary. After the success of the sports documentary trailblazer ‘Drive to Survive’, F1 viewership figures on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC have more than doubled from 2018 with an average 1.21m viewers per race in 2022. 

Attendances at Formula 1 events has also become increasingly popular, with the US Grand Prix increasing from 264,000 spectators in 2018 to 400,000 in 2021. Formula 1 races now average 70 million viewers. The sport seemingly overnight became all the rage, something that the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and all other tours will be hoping to capitalise on.  

It should be noted that some of the largest Formula 1 sponsorship deals have been signed in the last three years. Oracle, MoneyGram, Aramco and Binance have all entered the sport since the launch of the documentary. Golf will be keen to have its seat at the table with the likes of tennis, cricket, football, MotoGP and Formula E. All of these sports have their own documentaries in production with the hope of drumming up a larger and more diverse fanbase. 


Rankings battle

As the major tours push each other even harder for the attention of fans on and off course, another area of intrigue is the new Official World Golf Ranking System (OWGR). This is integral to professional golf as it is the way by which golfers are ranked based on their performance on eligible tours around the world. But since August 2022 this system has been overhauled, with field ratings installed for each tournament individually and each player in a field contributing performance points.

This new rating is calculated after every round that is played over a rolling two-year basis with weighting given to the relative difficulty of the course that they play. As a result of these changes, a new hierarchy has been established, as there are now considerably fewer OWGR points on offer on the DP World Tour when compared to the PGA Tour for 2023.  

Until now, the Rolex Series and a handful of elevated events on the DP World Tour have attracted some of the biggest names in golf. However, since the re-working of the rankings system, top players may be tempted to play in the much more lucrative PGA Tour events across the pond.  

The LIV Golf challenge

LIV Golf has done no favours to help the fluctuating positions of the DP World Tour or the PGA Tour for that matter, as it has attracted some of the most exciting young players and established competitors of the game, including Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Abraham Ancer, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson.  

LIV Golf events span every continent and promise local flavour at each event with immersive entertainment including Formula 1-style fan villages and concerts. A new TV deal with the CW Network has solidified the position of LIV Golf and lays the foundations for brand sponsors to come onboard. With impressive financial backing, top-tier players, TV deals and an innovative format, one must take LIV Golf seriously for 2023 as a wandering eye from a golf fan will be attracted to its events.

That said, golf is arguably in one of the strongest positions that it has ever been with the buzz around the game due to these shifting situations. The ‘Netflix Effect’ should only strengthen this trajectory of growth in fandom of golf, helping establish the sport as a modern and innovative platform which should not only appeal to fans, but to sponsors too. 

With viewers and sponsors being split across the tours, the consensus is that there will be growth in 2023 as the game of golf enters the 21st century. No matter where your loyalties lie, buckle up, because it’s set to be a standout year.