A VR Open, streaming content and more: R&A, IMG expand longtime partnership with ambitious 10-year plan

Have you ever heard of Seven League?

The company self-admittedly “provides consultancy and agency services to accelerate the digital performance of the biggest names in sport” and has worked with everyone from the NBA and NFL to the Green Bay Packers and FC Barcelona. In 2021, Seven League became the digital arm for IMG Media and will now be integral to the game of golf due to the management company’s renewed and expanded long-standing partnership with the R&A.

“We are delighted to expand our partnership with IMG and to leverage their expertise on a deeper level as we continue to evolve as an organization,” said Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A. “Enhancing our media and digital expertise, evolving our partnership program, ensuring our championships continue to be world-leading and diversifying our business are key to our long-term commercial success. Our purpose is to ensure that golf is thriving 50 years from now and this partnership will help us open up a whole new range of opportunities.”

The relationship between the R&A and IMG goes way back to the Mark McCormack era, and for 50-plus years IMG has viewed the R&A as one of its most prestigious clients. The two are now locked into an ambitious 10-year partnership that, starting this month, will see IMG provide digital services powered by Seven League, evolve the R&A’s production and content offerings as well as distribute international media rights.

“We’ve really focused particularly in the last year or two in how our services need to evolve in order to cater for the changing landscape in media, the changing landscape in sport and how best to serve our most important clients,” said President of IMG Media, Adam Kelly, who has been with the company for 22 years. “Where we’ve expanded has been creating a solution that really looks at the whole business from the perspective of the fan, and how we engage with the audience, and how we develop and build value.”

For the first time, IMG has embedded a team – Seven League – to put dedicated staff within the R&A to work as a resource and provide bandwidth to “supercharge” the R&A’s strategy. The expanded partnership allows for IMG and Seven League to do what they do best, which will ensure the R&A gets to focus on what it does best.

“From an RNA perspective, as we expand and deepen the relationship with IMG, it allows us to leverage all of the expertise and the enhanced capability and ultimately drive commercial success and commercial performance,” added Neil Armit, Chief Commercial Officer of the R&A. “It’s our commercial performance and the revenues that are generated that are used to fund our investment back into the development of the sport.”

The R&A previously announced it was aiming to invest $200 million into golf over a 10-year period from 2017-2026. For Kelly, working not just with a property, but the sport itself makes the partnership all the more important.

“I think that’s what’s so interesting about the positioning for the R&A as an organization is that they have a responsibility to grow the game,” explained Kelly. “It’s not just like some others about a quick return on their investment or otherwise, it’s about building the game and building value for the sport itself.”

The emergence of LIV Golf, entertainment golf locations such as Topgolf and PopStroke and the booming number of online influencers are all examples that point to an everchanging golf landscape, one that Kelly views as ripe for new entrants.

“There’s always competition. I mean, this is an area that’s ripe for challenge, whether it be on the tournament side or player side, everybody in the sport is having to sprint in order to keep up with the pace of change,” he explained. “But I see that we’re in a golden age of sport. And in the battle for attention, that is the latest Netflix show versus the metaverse versus anything else, you’ve got to find an ability to cut through that noise. Live sport does that better than anything else. ”

So what can fans expect? Seven League has the capability to help enhance products like shot trackers or “live from the range” segments, as well as innovative new ones. The R&A is in active discussions in the virtual reality space and is looking into things like a VR Open, where users would play one of the courses on the Open Championship rota, and blending archival moments to give fans a chance to play a famous shot using VR.

With Endeavor Streaming also now in the mix, the direct-to-consumer concept will be an area of consideration going forward.

“I think it’s a longer term plan for us, where we certainly see the benefits of starting to enter into direct-to-consumer, but more of a global kind of free service, as opposed to an immediate pivot into a subscription or a pay-per-view model,” explained Armit, who noted how Endeavor provides extra value to light up dark and distressed markets with alternative options.

New gadgets and lofty plans for commercial growth aside, Armit was clear on one point: the R&A is most focused on ensuring it reinvests the money for the benefit of making golf more accessible, appealing and inclusive in the future.

“I can’t think of anything more exciting than to try and transform something that’s so long-standing, and yet has got so much potential to improve,” added Kelly. “A lot, a lot more to come here.”

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Story originally appeared on GolfWeek