Thought Leadership

The Open Championship: Connecting the world to golf


By Dan Zelezinski

July 14, 2021

Thought Leadership

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Golf fans around the world are preparing themselves for another roller coaster ride this week as the oldest of the Major Championships, The Open, gets underway tomorrow at Royal St Georges. Can Rahm’s form keep the claret jug residing in Europe for one more year? Will Jordan Speith’s past success at The Open enable him to wrestle it back across the Atlantic? Can Adam Scott add a claret jug to his green jacket and take it down under?  Will Louis Oosthuizen bring it to South Africa as he did in 2010?

The Open captures the attention of the golfing world for a number of reasons, but principal among them is its ability to connect with fans from all corners of the globe.  The Open is the most international of all of golf’s majors, with 36 nationalities represented at each of the Open Championships since 2016.  

That the R&A’s flagship event is more diverse than any other major is not by accident. The R&A’s raison d’etre is to make golf more accessible, appealing and inclusive, and to ensure it’s thriving 50 years from now.   The R&A have invested heavily in their partnerships with 157 affiliate organisations to build a deeply connected network that reaches 143 countries.  The focus on growing the game at the grass roots and ensuring The Open is truly open to all is a key lever in the strategy. Providing a platform at the pinnacle of the game for players of all nationalities is key to ensuring the next generation of super stars includes players from everywhere.

While the international nature of The Open is one of the more uplifting examples of golf’s diversity – and is a key pillar of the R&A’s aspirations to grow the global game – it is also a key driver for the event’s commercial value. Any sport that can authentically ignite the passion of fans will naturally increase it’s value to media and commercial partners. The strongest connections are built when a sport can offer fans an authentic reason to care.  Shared nationalities, experience, heritage and history are perhaps consistently the biggest driver of connection between fans and sport.  This is the reason that viewing figures for international fixtures in football can dwarf those of the club game – in England, over 30 million people tuned in to watch England’s defeat against Italy in the European Championship final – well over half the population and many times more than even the most significant club games.  Appeal at an international level has something for everyone.

That fans feel connected to the action through the diversity of the field is one of the most compelling reasons to watch.  Matching the diversity in the field with diversity in commercial partners is one of the key ways in which The Open is able to translate the global connection with fans into revenue.  The event’s global appeal creates opportunities for the sale of media and commercial rights in emerging and often lucrative markets. 

This opportunity is supported by the event’s schedule.  The Open is on at a time convenient for everyone – regardless of location – to watch live.  Defending Champion Shane Lowry’s final round in 2019 tee’d off at 13:47 local time, making the denouement of golf’s oldest event easily accessible to every single person on the planet.

Providing fans with a reason to care and the convenience to watch is a powerful combination that forms the basis of The Open’s continued growth trajectory. Demographics also suggest that this is a sensible strategy.  A large proportion of the game’s global fans reside outside of the USA and Europe, as does much of it’s talent – 37% of the world’s top players have started their careers outside of these regions while APAC accounts for 65% of the world’s 250M golf fans.  Moreover, the critical mass of these fans are youthful, digital natives and the gender split is more reflective of society than any other market. Source: GlobalWebIndex Key Demographics of Golf Fans

The Open will continue to be central to the R&A’s strategy of securing the game’s future as a global, diverse sport.  The connection delivered through the diversity of the field and the convenience of its schedule will help to create the commercial value needed to invest in the game’s global foundations.  So while the action at Royal St George’s is sure to keep us on the edge of our seats this week, it is also playing a key role in supporting a virtuous cycle central to golf’s future.