Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy Retool Golf to Expand Sport’s Fan Base

TMRW Sports, a startup founded by Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and former Golf Channel president Mike McCarley, recently raised an oversubscribed seed round from a collective of high-profile investors.

The company has set out to grow golf’s fan base by reimagining the sport for a younger, more tech-savvy, diverse audience. Its new league, TGL, will blend the traditional golf game with emerging technologies to create what former Goldman Sachs partner and TMRW investor Eric Grubman called “the first true esport.”

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PGA Tour stars—including Woods and McIlroy—will hit balls on a simulator that will measure parameters such as club speed, exit velocity, club path and spin to project shots onto massive screens. Once within a certain distance of the hole on the virtual course, they will putt on a tech-enabled green in front of a live studio audience.

“It’s completely technology driven and therefore its appeal is likely to be to a younger demographic with a shorter attention span,” Grubman said. The average age of a PGA Tour viewer on linear television is 67.8 years.

JWS’ Take: “GL” in the acronym TGL stands for golf league. The “T” remains open for interpretation. It could mean technology, team, TMRW or Tiger—and according to insiders, at various times over the last two years it has.

TMRW declined to disclose how much money it has raised or the valuation the capital was raised at. However, the seed round is expected to get TGL to sustainability.

To be clear, TGL is not looking to compete with the PGA Tour. In fact, the tour is a partner in the new league. It sees value in the complementary golf property promoting its biggest stars and personalities. “A primetime experience featuring PGA Tour players will help attract a broader audience to our sport and the world’s greatest players,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said in a statement.

TGL events will take place on Mondays so as not to interfere with the tour’s Thursday through Sunday schedule.

Building interest in a new sports league is a challenging endeavor. But history has shown that viewers will tune in for made-for-TV golf events. Monday Night Golf, a series of primetime match-play events that aired once a year from 1999-2005 on ABC, averaged 7.4 million viewers.

Turner Sports has drawn an average 1.39 million cable viewers across the last four episodes of The Match.

Momentum exists behind the off-course golf trend too. More people will play the game off a traditional golf course than on one in 2022. Top Golf’s rapid growth is behind the shift towards “modern golf.”

TMRW intends to produce events in a way that makes viewers feel as if they are hanging out with “some of the biggest personalities in the game and the pop-culture world,” former On Location Experiences CEO and TMRW investor John Collins said. Think of it like a live golf tournament mixed with the ManningCast. However, unlike the MNF alt-broadcast, the personalities featured during TGL events will be actively participating in the competition.

The PGA Tour’s involvement lends credibility to the upstart league and should help convince existing golf fans to give it a chance. TGL’s team format (six teams, three golfers per) is designed to add some additional intrigue.

TMRW will rely on its diversified investor base to drive awareness of the property among those not typically tuning in for professional golf.

Most of the made-for-TV golf competitions held throughout the years have been one-off events. The player travel and/or infrastructure buildout required to pull off a professional golf tournament in primetime hampered anything more frequent unrealistic.

TGL will host its events weekly over a five-month period beginning in January 2024. The regular season is slated to run 15 weeks followed by a postseason comprised of semifinals and finals series.

While some players may be reluctant to give up their off day, TMRW is finding many more are eager to convert what has typically been a practice day into one that is productive from both a competition and commercial standpoint. TGL intends to announce the names of committed players in the weeks ahead.

Technological advancements enable the competition to take place on the East Coast, in prime time, without having to outfit a 200-acre course with lights or worry about rain delays.

The tech-infused setup is also expected to deliver a TV-friendly broadcast. Event coverage will “be able to integrate things that historically haven’t worked well for golf, like gaming and stats,” Collins said. Remember, at a typical golf event much of the action takes place simultaneously. As a result, only a fraction of the strokes taken are shown on television in real time, limiting the live betting opportunities.

By eliminating the time players spend walking, TGL will be able to show every shot live within a compressed two-hour competition. The studio environment enables the league to set up cameras to capture each of them perfectly. Having those angles should allow the announcers to deliver the swing analysis hardcore golfers crave.

TGL’s business model will initially look a lot like any other pro sports league. “Gate, sponsorship, media distribution,” Collins said. If the league catches on as investors hope, it could consider selling ownership in teams down the road.

The gate is expected be the smallest revenue stream of the three. Matches are taking place in an intimate studio environment, not on a golf course or 20,000-seat arena/stadium.

There could also be a compelling proprietary data play available to TGL in the future. “Imagine the rich data that could be gathered in this kind of controlled environment,” Grubman said. “You just start thinking about what fans, [club pros] and sports gaming companies would want to do with it.”

While TMRW’s initial focus is on golf, the company envisions being able to replicate its tech-enabled league concept within other sports. Steph Curry, Serena Williams and Lewis Hamilton are among the celebrity athletes who participated in the recent round. “You can see from the list of investors that there are other legs to this,” Collins said.

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